While a controversial Public Safety Act (PSA), a law termed as “lawless law” by Amnesty International, continues to be used by authorities for preventive detentions in Jammu & Kashmir, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act is also being rampantly used in J&K to keep people “out of circulation.” Police sources say in the past few years the police prefer the UAPA over the PSA. According to Human Rights and RTI Activist Venkatesh Nayak Jammu and Kashmir reported only 45 cases of the UAPA in 2014 but the 255 cases were registered in 2019 alone. Police sources say since 2019 over 1000 persons might have been booked under PSA in Kashmir. There are instances where people booked under PSA have been later charged with UAPA after their PSA detention is quashed by the High Court.
A youth Ubaid Rashid Mir was arrested in 2018 in the Shopian district of South Kashmir and booked under the Public Safety Act (PSA) and shifted to Tihar jail, Delhi. According to his lawyer Habeel Iqbal twice the High Court of Jammu and Kashmir quashed his PSA detention orders and asking the authorities to release him if not wanted in another case. "His last detention order under the PSA was quashed by the High Court on March 10, 2021. He was not released and now he has been now booked under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in an FIR of 2016. No one would ask police that why it didn’t investigate and produce the charge sheet in the past five years in this case of 2016,” says Iqbal.
The lawyers say there are instances where even juveniles were booked under the UAPA.
On June 21, 2021, the Police booked several persons under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for sloganeering at the funeral of a cricketer Mohamad Amin Dar. Dar was killed in an accident in the Kupwara district of north Kashmir when he was returning home in June. Since he was popular in the area large number of people participated in the funeral.
The police say during his funeral separatist slogans were raised. The police have arrested four persons including a minor child and booked them under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. Later in a rare case juvenile justice board granted bail to the minor. In its order, the Kupwara juvenile justice board ruled that the offenses for which the minor has been booked-even though allegedly serious ones -are not heinous.
According to the board, no FIR can be registered against a child in conflict with the law even in cases of serious nature, but only in case of heinous offenses. “In cases other than heinous offenses, only [a] report in the “General Dairy” is to be recorded,” it said. However, three other persons continued to be in the jail. “The Board is of opinion that it is ripe time for the child in conflict with law to be reunited with his family and to be restored to some socio-economic and cultural status.” Other accused in the case are lodged in the sub-jail Kupwara.
Another minor was arrested by the police from Khanyar chowk in April this year and booked under the UAPA allegedly for stone-throwing. According to his family, the minor was arrested in the old city and kept in the police station for 13 days. They said he was booked under UAPA and later sent to the juvenile home at Harwan. “We would ask the police repeatedly that he should be released as his father was on the last stage of cancer and was about to die. But they were not listening,” the family says. They say his father died after four days of his release from his juvenile home.
In the Valley, three courts have been designated to hear the cases under UAPA. The cases of Shopian, Kulgam and Anantnag are being heard by the first additional district judge, which is also a special court under NIA in Anantnag. In Srinagar, the TADA and POTA court hears the UAPA cases of four districts, Pulwama, Budgam, Ganderbal, and Srinagar. In North Kashmir, the cases under UAPA are being heard in Baramulla.
Advocate Mir Urfi, who has been fighting the cases of PSA detainees for over two decades, says in Jammu and Kashmir the UAPA has become another law to keep people in jail like the PSA.
“There are cases where people have been detained under the UAPA for nearly two years and later they were acquitted by the Courts saying the charges are not made out. I remember in one case a person was in detention for two years and later the Court acquitted him saying charges are not made out. Who will pay for his two years,” she asks.
However, the lawyers say if a person is booked under PSA, there is rare possibility that the Courts can quash the PSA detention within four or five months. “But if arrested under the UAPA, obtaining bail for six months is impossible. Even murder accused has chances of bail but the accused under UAPA has no chances of bail,” says a lawyer.
Advocate Habeel Iqbal says last year in September cricket playing boys in Shopian were arrested under the anti-terrorism law, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). They were arrested for playing a match in memory of a slain militant Syed Ruban at Rambiara on the banks of the Jhelum river on August 4, 2020. After the match, Ruban’s brother Syed Tajamul had distributed cricket uniforms among players, inscribed with Ruban’s name. Tajmul and eight players had visited the grave of Ruban to recite prayers for the deceased. Later on September 1, the police summoned the players, who had visited Ruban’s grave with Tajamul, for questioning and booked them under UAPA for glorifying militancy. “They were released after six months after they got default bail,” says Iqbal.