Accessibility links

Breaking News

Critics Denounce Indian Anti-terror Measure - 2001-11-20

In India, human rights groups and opposition political parties strongly oppose a tough new anti-terrorism law the government wants to pass in the current session of Parliament.

The Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance was passed last month under emergency constitutional provisions, but must be ratified by Parliament to remain in force. It was framed by the Bharatiya-Janata Party-led government after the September 11 attacks in the United States.

The controversial law gives the government powers to arrest and detain suspects for up to three months, without filing formal charges. It allows security agencies to tap telephones and intercept communication of suspected terrorists or those suspected of harboring them. It also makes it mandatory for all persons, including journalists, to disclose information relating to terrorism.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has defended the bill, saying every country threatened by terrorism is tightening its laws. India has been grappling with separatist revolts by militant groups in Kashmir and the northeast for more than a decade.

But opposition political parties and human rights groups say the sweeping powers in the new law would undermine basic freedoms and threaten human rights.

In a report, the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center, a human rights monitoring group based in New Delhi, called the bill "draconian" and "authoritarian." The group's director, Ravi Nair, says the proposed law will make it possible for authorities to target political opponents, minority groups and journalists. "The main objection we have is that it makes evidence taken by a police officer admissible as evidence in the [trial] proceedings," he said. "This is a carte blanche for torture in the Indian situation, without the minimum safeguards that the criminal procedure court gives. Secondly, the definition of terrorism is too broad, and is not clearly defined. We are not questioning the right of the government to defeat terrorist groups and their aims. But it cannot be a catch-all, omnibus legislation. It must be clearly defined. What you need is a surgeon's scalpel, not a hammer."

The government-appointed National Human Rights Commission has also criticized the new law, saying existing legislation is sufficient to tackle terrorism. It says special laws enacted earlier to combat terrorism were scrapped because they were widely misused.

The main opposition Congress party and other opposition parties have said they will not support the bill. The government maintains safeguards have been included to prevent its misuse.

Faced with stiff opposition, the government says it will consider some amendments to the terrorism ordinance to reach a political consensus. But the government says it is determined to try and pass the law in the current session of parliament because it says it is needed to safeguard the country's security.