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Law

J&K Court Grants Bail to National Conference MP’s Son in UAPA Case

The judge observed that there were no allegations that Hilal Lone was linked with any terrorist organisation.

Srinagar: A court in the Kashmir valley has granted bail to Hilal Akbar Lone, the son of National Conference member of parliament Muhammad Akbar Lone, who had been booked on January 9 under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, (UAPA), for making a speech during the District Development Council polls.

The court observed during the hearing that “such spoken words wouldn’t prima facie lead to commission of offence of unlawful activity” and held that “there is not any allegation that Hilal Akbar Lone has called for the secession of the territory of the state (sic) from the Union of India, nor were his words intending to cause disaffection against the country”.

Hilal had been booked under the UAPA while he was already in preventive detention under the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC).

Court observations

In his observations, the special judge for the trial of offences under the UAPA for Baramulla, Kupwara and Bandipora districts, said: “The petitioner was canvassing for National Conference, a political party, and it is not the case of the prosecution that the said political party is an unlawful association in terms of the provisions of the UAPA. Having said so from the allegations levelled in the police report and what is recorded in the case diary, there is not any whisper that the petitioner had exhorted the assembly of people whom he was addressing on the day when the video was shot to cause any kind of violence so as to throw out the government of the present day. It is also not the case that the petitioner was in any way inciting people to commit any kind of violence.”

The court added: “What is alleged therein is regarding the policies of the government of the day, which according to the petitioner is ‘branding Muslims as terrorists, whereas its own people are terrorising others and preventing them from discharging their religious beliefs’. Such spoken words wouldn’t prima facie lead to the commission of offences of unlawful activity of the type as provided in section 2(o) of the Act.”

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Lone had been taken into preventive detention on December 25, 2020 and lodged at the MLA Hostel, Srinagar, which had housed Kashmir’s political detainees after the Central government rounded up democratically-elected mainstream leaders when Article 370 of the Constitution of India was read down.

While he was in preventive detention, the police registered an FIR against him on January 9 at the police station in Hajin after a video of a speech he had made during the DDC elections went viral. An FIR under sections 153-A, 188, 505 of the Indian Penal Code, section 125 of the Representation of Peoples Act and section 13 of the UAPA was registered against him.

The court said there is a requirement under section 2(o) of the UAPA that the words must be of the nature to bring the secession of a part of the country or the disruption of its sovereignty and territorial integrity or cause disaffection against the country.

Holding that there was no legal impediment in granting bail to the petitioner, the court observed that there were not any allegations that he had got any link with any banned organisation or [was] promoting or espousing the cause of a terrorist organisation.

“At the most, the words allegedly spoken by him in the said video attract the offence of promoting enmities between various classes or questioning the policies of the government. However, that itself cannot be branded as an unlawful activity within the ambit of section 13 of the UAPA,” the judge said.

The judge, Sanjay Parihar, also observed that the petitioner at the most could have posed a threat to public peace and tranquility, but not to the security, unity and integrity of the country. “During the course of arguments it was pointed out that the petitioner was earlier detained under the Public Safety Act after Article 370, whereafter the same was withdrawn.  Later in December 2020 he was kept in detention as a preventive measure, which means the petitioner at the most could have been a threat to public peace and tranquility. But not a person who can be said to have posed a threat to the security, unity and integrity of the country,” the judge said.

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‘The charges are frivolous’

Hilal Akbar Lone, who was released from detention after more than two months, told The Wire that the charges levelled against him were baseless and frivolous.

“Is it a crime to be part of a mainstream party in Kashmir? Hundreds of our workers have fallen prey to bullets in the past three decades. I don’t understand why we are treated like criminals despite the sacrifices of our workers,” he said.

A law graduate from Kashmir University, 48-year-old Hilal was taken into preventive detention and lodged at Centaur Hotel in August 2019 when the Centre read down the Article 370 and reorganised J&K into two union territories. He remained in detention under Section 107 of the Code of Criminal Procedure for six months. When this detention period lapsed on February 9, 2020, the authorities booked him under the Public Safety Act (PSA), which was earlier mostly used against separatists and militants. His PSA detention order was revoked in June 2020, 10 months after he was first detained.

Umer Maqbool is a Kashmir-based independent journalist. He can be reached at maqbool.umer@gmail.com.