Tripura UAPA Charges | Day 2: Petitioners argue gross misuse of UAPA to suppress reports on Tripura violence

UAPA Charges Related to Tripura Violence

Judges: B.M. Trivedi J, Pankaj Mithal J

Today a Division Bench of the Supreme Court composed of Justices Bela Trivedi and Pankaj Mithal heard the batch of challenges concerning the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 (UAPA). This included the challenge to the UAPA arrests following the Tripura violence in 2021 and the bail application filed by activist Umar Khalid in the 2002 Delhi riots case. 

Senior Advocate Kapil Sibal asked to withdraw Khalid’s Case “due to change in circumstance,” and offered no other details. After over 15 adjournments in the case which reached the Supreme Court in April 2023, the case was dismissed with not a single day of substantive hearings. Incidentally, the Court issued a circular today stating that “no letters for adjournment shall be entertained in cases…relating to bail/anticipatory bail” among others. 

The present tagged case of Mukesh v State of Tripura began. Senior Advocate Huzefa Ahmadi appeared first, followed by Advocate Prashanth Bhushan. 

Bench: One must be aggrieved to approach the Court

The hearing began with some confusion on how the cases against Khalid, the UAPA allegations in the Tripura violence, and challenges to the constitutionality of certain provisions of the UAPA were connected. After getting some clarity on whether notice was issued on these cases, and whether counter affidavits were submitted to the Court, the arguments began. 

Ahmadi read out his written submissions, outlining how the provisions of the UAPA allow the Union to arbitrarily brand a person a “terrorist”. As he was about to explain the other grounds for the petition, Justice Trivedi interjected “Mr. Ahmadi, one minute—sorry for the intervention. But who are the petitioners?”

Ahmadi explained that he was appearing in a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed by an “individual”. “How are they affected?” the Bench asked. Ahmadi explained that in a case challenging the constitutionality of the legislation, the effect on an individual does not arise. Justice Trivedi responded that in a petition filed under Article 32, they must be an “aggrieved party” whose “rights have been violated.” Ahmadi tried to explain that the Court has often entertained organisations and institutions under their PIL jurisdictions. 

Justice Mithal stated that though PIL jurisdiction is broad, and the requirement of locus standi is relaxed, there “must be a semblance of involvement” to have grounds to challenge it. Otherwise, “it would be proxy litigation” on behalf of someone who does not wish to appear in Court. Ahmadi explained that the Bench had already issued notice in the case to the respondents, indicating that the Court didn’t have any issues until this point. 

“Let us take up another petition where petitioner himself is aggrieved” Justice Trivedi said. She insisted that the Court hear arguments from one of the 10 cases in the batch of cases. Prashanth Bhushan, appearing for lawyers and journalists, approached the Bench. 

Bhushan: FIR for merely tweeting “Tripura is burning”?

Bhushan read out his petition. He explained that they sought the quashing of the UAPA charges against the petitioners, and challenged the constitutionality of the UAPA itself. Counsel for Tripura pounced on this, pointing to the Court that this was a petition for quashing of charges—a matter that the High Court can consider. Bhushan explained that he was going to use the case as an example to show that UAPA is being “grossly misused”.

Bhushan argued that “UAPA has been invoked against advocates to suppress a fact-finding report titled “Humanity under attack in Tripura #Muslim Lives Matter” which documents violence against minority groups, Muslims and the lack of action by the State Government. He explained that a day after the report was published, an FIR against the petitioners were filed. 

Though there are other tagged cases for specific FIRs against the UAPA charges, this case, Bhushan explained, was also about the FIR being a gross abuse of the law. It was filed “For what? For tweeting that Tripura is burning,” when news channels had widely been reporting on the violence in Tripura? 

Counsel for Tripura argued that there was no reason to not approach the High Court. The Bench asked Bhushan whether he wanted to approach the High Court first, and he answered that he would listen to what the Court felt was right. “We don’t feel anything,” Justice Trivedi responded. Bhushan successfully sought permission to return to his clients for instructions. 

The Court will hear the case again tomorrow, 15 February 2024.