20 June: Countrywide Protest against Prosecution of Arundhati Roy and Sheikh Showkhat Hussain under UAPA

New Delhi, 20 June 2024

The recent decision by the Lieutenant Governor of Delhi to prosecute renowned author and activist Arundhati Roy and former Kashmir University professor Dr. Sheikh Shaukat Hussain under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) for a case dating back to 2010 has sparked significant controversy and nationwide protests led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist).

CPIML argues that prosecuting under UAPA after 14 years is a misuse of power and an attack on freedom of expression. The BJP government has significantly increased the use of UAPA, with cases rising from 922 in 2016 to 1,226 in 2019, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). The conviction rate under UAPA remains low, often below 30%, suggesting that many individuals are detained for long periods without sufficient evidence to secure a conviction. This trend raises concerns about the law's misuse to suppress dissent and target political opponents.

Jammu and Kashmir reported the highest number of UAPA cases, increasing from 289 in 2021 to 371 in 2022. Manipur followed with 167 cases in 2022, up from 157 in 2021, while Punjab and Haryana also saw significant increases in UAPA cases.

On June 20, CPIML held protests at all important centres of the country demanding to withdraw Delhi LG’s sanction against these two prominent personalities. A protest held in Delhi at Jantar Mantar was addressed by CPIML General Secretary Dipankar Bhattacharya. He said that by giving sanction to prosecution of Arundhati Roy and Sheikh Showkat Hussain under UAPA, the Modi government is trying to tell us that it does not care for the spirit of the 2024 mandate and that it would continue to 'control' democracy by stifling dissent and persecuting truth.

The protesters also demanded repeal of all draconian laws and release of all prisoners of conscience. Protests were held in Patna, Kolkata, Lucknow, Ranchi, Tripura, and other state capitals besides hundreds of local demonstrations in districts and blocks.

A protest held at Lalkua tehsil complex sent a memorandum to the President of India stating that it is astonishing and absurd to grant permission to prosecute under UAPA after 14 years. They argue that such a decision represents a direct misuse of power by the authorities to target dissenting voices. Allowing prosecution under an anti-terrorism law for spoken words, especially 14 years after they were spoken, is unacceptable. CPIML central committee member Dr. Kailash Pandey stated, "This case is an attack on dissent and the right to freedom of expression. For the past decade, the central government has trapped people with opposing views in such cases, keeping them in jail for years without trial. Granting permission to prosecute Arundhati Roy and Dr. Shaukat Hussain is the first action of the NDA government in this term, indicating that this government will continue to misuse repressive laws. Such persecutory actions must be stopped immediately."

Protests against the UAPA charges were also held by CPIML in other parts of the country. In Siliguri city and Krishnanagar, demonstrators gathered to voice their opposition to the prosecution of Arundhati Roy and Dr. Sheikh Shaukat Hussain. In Delhi, a protest was held at Jantar Mantar on June 20, where activists and supporters demanded the withdrawal of the UAPA charges.

The decision to prosecute Roy and Hussain under UAPA highlights serious concerns about the misuse of repressive laws and the attack on freedom of expression. CPIML is calling for immediate action to revoke the prosecution approval and repeal the UAPA. The continuation of such practices threatens the fundamental rights of dissent and expression in India.