The Justice for UAPA Prisoners Forum staged a protest at the Kerala Secretariat on Friday with various demands. They want the government to repeal UAPA, conducting trials in a timely manner, protect the rights of UAPA prisoners, release the prisoners who are in jail for ten years on bail, unconditionally release those in jail for 14 years, include the rights of political prisoners in the jail manual, end the practice of covering the face of people when they are produced in courts, and give bail for all accused in the cases in which trial has not started even after two years of submitting the chargesheet. The protest was staged by the Justice for UAPA Prisoners Forum on December 10, International Human Rights Day.
The protest which was attended by scores of people who were jailed under UAPA (Unlawful Activities Prevention Act) and relatives of UAPA prisoners, also demanded the government to withdraw all UAPA cases in Kerala in the backdrop of the judgment in the Thaha case. Alan and Thaha, two youths from Kozhikode, were arrested by the Pantheerankavu police in November 2019 alleging Maoist links. They were charged with UAPA. The arrest had invited widespread criticism against the ruling Left government of the state.
Ten months after they were booked under UAPA, the two students — 21-year-old Alan Shuhaib and 24-year-old Thaha Fasal — were released in September this year after an NIA court in Kochi granted them bail, and said the students cannot prima facie be considered as CPI (Maoist) cadets. The order also said that possession of writings lenient to Maoism does not incriminate a person.
These charges are similar to what Thushar Nirmal Saradhi — who attended the protest — faced back in January 2015. His house in Thripunithura in Ernakulam was searched by the police in January 2015, alleging that he had kept materials that contained Maoist ideologies and also weapons. The police took some pamphlets and books from his house. Thushar, along with another activist Jaison C Cooper, was arrested under the UAPA in January 2015. Jaison was detained from his house in Mattancherry in Kochi and Thushar from a protest venue in Kozhikode.
Thushar says they were targeted after he and Jaison had participated in a protest against pollution caused by Nitta Gelatin India Ltd (NGIL) at Kathikudam in Thrissur in July 2013. After this, Thushar said that the police had put them under police surveillance.
A lawyer and a Human Rights activist based in Ernakulam, Thushar was Secretary of the Janakeeya Manushyavakasha Prasthanam, an organisation that stands for human rights, at the time of the arrest. The police had lathi-charged the protesters against Nitta Gelatin. The organisation then conducted a state-wide convention against the police lathi charge. Post this, the corporate office of Nitta Gelatin, functioning at Panampilly Nagar in Kochi, was vandalised by a group of people, who claimed to be Maoists. An office of the National Highway Authority, functioning at Kalamassery Kochi, was also vandalised by a group of people, in two months.
“The police searched my house claiming to be on a tip-off that I had pro-Maoist materials and weapons. They took some books and pamphlets and made me the accused. The police version was that I am a Maoist and hence accused as per the UAPA Act,” Thushar says. “Earlier, the police had tried to link me and Jaison Cooper (a social activist) with the vandalising cases. But they couldn’t do that as there was no involvement of us and later they came out with the claim of us having Maoist links,” he adds.
Thushar got bail in March 2015, “but usually this is not the case,” he says, “as the stand of trial courts is not favourable for UAPA prisoners irrespective of the human rights and other issues involved. In Kerala UAPA also exposes the double standard of the CPI(M),” Thushar says.
Rajesh Madhavan, a native of Mavelikkara in Alappuzha district, was also at the protest. He was arrested under UAPA charges in December 2012. Rajesh along with three other people — Ajayan, Devarajan and Gopal — were arrested allegedly for conducting a Maoist meeting. The National Investigation Agency court in Kochi had sentenced them to three years’ imprisonment. “We conducted a public event for which the police alleged conspiracy and that we were working for a banned outfit. We have filed an appeal at the High Court against the NIA court verdict,” Rajesh tells TNM.