[Statement] India: Concerns over Proposed Criminal Legislations
25 August 2023 1:21 pm
(Bangkok/Kathmandu, 25 August 2023) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) expresses deep concern over the recent introduction of three draft legislations that are set to replace major criminal laws in India.
On 11 August 2023, the Union Home Minister of India introduced three bills in the Parliament, namely Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita; Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita; and Bharatiya Sakshya. If adopted, these would replace the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure, and the Indian Evidence Act.
Broadening the scope of sedition
We are concerned about the broadening of the definition of sedition and the incorporation of provisions to criminalise ‘subversive actions’ that are perceived to ‘endanger sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India.’ The lack of explicit clarity regarding the scope of these provisions could inadvertently stifle dissent and be exploited against minorities, dissenting voices, human rights defenders, and journalists. Such ambiguity may potentially undermine the freedom of speech and expression in India.
Vague definition of terrorism
Furthermore, the newly introduced bills provide a vague definition of the offence of terrorism. It is imperative that terrorism is defined in a manner that upholds human rights and adheres to the rule of law since an imprecise definition could lead to wrongful incarcerations.
Despite numerous calls for the abolition of the death penalty, even in the Universal Periodic Review, the retention of capital punishment for specific offences within the proposed legislation remains a concern.
Protecting the right to a fair trial
The proposal for trial in absentia must be scrutinised to prevent any potential infringement on the right to a fair trial, as it could facilitate the denial of fair trial rights for an accused individual.
Particularly troubling within the proposed legislation is the authorization for the detention of an accused person in police custody beyond the current 15-day period, extending it to up to 90 days for certain offences. Given the widespread practice of torture and inhumane treatment by the police in India, authorizing prolonged periods of police custody could significantly impact the rights of the accused.
Call to Action
‘The sudden introduction of these legislations to replace criminal laws in India, without any public consultation, is profoundly concerning. While the government claims that this step aims to replace ‘colonial era’ laws enacted during British rule, the introduction of new provisions that include offences related to terrorism in general criminal legislation raises concerns about potential misuse, especially when existing counter-terrorism laws are arbitrarily employed against minorities and human rights defenders,’ stated Mary Aileen Diez-Bacalso, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA.
FORUM-ASIA emphasises the critical need for meticulous scrutiny of the potential consequences on fundamental freedoms, individual liberties, and human rights.
We urge the Government of India to thoroughly address these concerns during the review process conducted by the Parliamentary Standing Committee.
Furthermore, we strongly advocate for a comprehensive and inclusive public consultation involving all relevant stakeholders before the bills are presented for further deliberations in the parliament. Such a consultative process is vital for ensuring that the proposed legislation aligns with democratic values and respects the fundamental rights of all citizens.
The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) is a network of 85 member organisations across 23 countries, mainly in Asia. Founded in 1991, FORUM-ASIA works to strengthen movements for human rights and sustainable development through research, advocacy, capacity development and solidarity actions in Asia and beyond. It has consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, and consultative relationship with the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights. The FORUM-ASIA Secretariat is based in Bangkok, with offices in Jakarta, Geneva and Kathmandu. www.forum-asia.org
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