Writ Petition Summary (Shyam Meera Singh, Mukesh & Ansar Indori)UAPA Charges Related to Tripura Violence
Background and Issue
On October 27th 2021, journalist Shyam Meera Singh tweeted ‘Tripura is burning’ in response to communal violence against Muslims in Tripura. On October 30th, two human rights lawyers, Mukesh and Ansar Indori, went to Tripura as a part of a fact finding mission. The findings were published in a report titled ‘Humanity Under Attack in Tripura #Muslim Lives Matter’ on November 2nd.
On November 3rd, an FIR was registered against 102 people under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 (UAPA) for certain posts made on social media. These posts were said to provoke enmity between religious groups and harm the reputation of the Tripura police and the Tripura government. Shyam Meera Singh, Mukesh and Ansar Indori were among those charged. On November 10th 2021, they filed a petition in the Supreme Court seeking that the FIR be quashed, and challenging certain sections of the UAPA.
What Have the Petitioners Prayed For?
The petitioners have asked for the Court to:
- Declare invalid the charges of causing ‘disaffection against India’ under Section 13 of the UAPA and under the Indian Penal Code, 1860.
- Declare the offence of unlawful activity and the restrictions on bail under the UAPA unconstitutional
The Unlawful Activities Prevention Act, 1967 Violates Free Speech and Expression
S 2(1)(o) of the UAPA defines ‘unlawful activity’ under the Act. The definition includes actions taken by an individual or association to ‘cause disaffection’ against India under the UAPA.
The petitioners argue that the social media post and the report do not fall under this definition, and are protected speech under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India that guarantees the freedom of speech and expression.
The petitioners argue that the definition of ‘unlawful activities’ is overbroad and has the tendency to allow even mere criticisms of the government to be penalised. Further, the vagueness of the provision gives excessive discretion to the police. Previously, in Shreya Singhal v Union of India (2015), the Court held that when an offence suffers from the defects of overbreadth and vagueness, is unconstitutional.
S 43(d)(5) of the UAPA places restrictions on securing bail, stating that the Public Prosecutor must be given the opportunity to be heard on any bail application. The petitioners argue that this renders securing bail near ‘impossibility’. Coupled with the arguments of overbreadth and vagueness, the UAPA allegedly produces a ‘chilling effect’ on free speech and expression.