On 30 January 2015, the Kerala police arrested human rights activists Jaison C Cooper and Thushar Nirmal Sarathy under India’s principal anti-terror legislation, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), for allegedly being involved in unlawful activities because they had ‘pro-Maoist’ materials in their homes. The Investigating Officer in the case said that the police had found pamphlets and materials ‘supporting Maoist groups’ in their homes, including a book titled ‘Why Maoism?’ in Jaison Cooper’s home, and in Thushar Sarathy’s house, a document signed by a leader of the banned Communist Party of India (Maoist) armed group giving him power of attorney.
Thushar Nirmal Sarathy is an active member of several groups protesting against land acquisition by the state government. Jaison C Cooper has also been actively engaged in protests against land acquisitions and forced evictions.
On multiple occasions, Indian courts have stated that mere possession of certain literature can’t be considered a crime. In April 2011, the Supreme Court observed, while granting bail to Binayak Sen – An Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience - that “the mere possession of Naxalite literature does not make a person a Naxalite”. In November 2010, the Gujarat High Court ruled in the Vishvanath case that “possession of material without there being any overt act or actual execution of such ideas by itself would not form or constitute any offence.” In October 2012, the Bombay High Court stated in the Jyoti Babasaheb Chorge case: “That The possession of certain literature having a particular social or political philosophy would amount to an offence, though such literature is not expressly or specifically banned under any provision of law, is a shocking proposition in a democratic country like ours.”
The National Human Rights Commission also issued a notice to Director General of Police, Kerala calling for a report on the arrest. On 17 March 2015, Jaison and Thushar were released on bail.
How did Amnesty respond?
Amnesty India issued an Urgent Action for Jaison and Thushar which was sent out globally through our Urgent Action Network.
In India, 40,000 Amnesty mobile supporters received a recorded voice call on their phone telling them about the case and urging them to demand that the Chief Minister of Kerala - Oommen Chandy - drop all the charges against them and release them immediately. An online action was created and promoted through Amnesty India’s social media platforms. 5593 mobile and online signatures were collected and submitted to the Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy.
What needs to happen now?
While Amnesty International India welcomes the Kerala High Court granting bail to Jaison C Cooper and Thushar Nirmal Sarathy, the Kerala state and central governments should work on creating a safe and secure environment in which human rights activists are able to carry out their work without intimidation or harassment, and also ensure that prompt action is taken against those who violate their rights.
India’s principal anti-terror legislation, the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) does not meet international human rights standards, which makes it more likely to lead to human rights violations. Amendments to the Act in 2008 extended the minimum period of detention of suspects from 15 to 30 days and the maximum period of such detention from 90 to 180 days .These amendments also avoided adequate pre-trial safeguards against torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment of detainees. It also reversed certain evidential burdens of grave crimes and required, in certain circumstances, accused persons to prove their innocence.
The Indian government should repeal or extensively revise the UAPA to ensure that it conforms fully with international human rights law and standards. It should protect people from arbitrary arrest and detention, and torture and other ill treatment. Similar laws at the state level must also be repealed.