Susan Abraham (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a lawyer and member of the Committee for Protection of Democratic Rights, Mumbai.
The Gadchiroli Sessions Court judgment sentencing G N Saibaba, Prashant Rahi, Hem Mishra, Mahesh Tirki, Pandu Narote to life imprisonment and Vijay Tirki to 10 years’ rigorous imprisonment is flawed and shows clearly to what extent the draconian Unlawful Activities Prevention Act can be misused. Apart from citing irrelevant documents, it has ignored valid evidence and arguments presented by the defence, and accepted dubious versions of the same presented by the prosecution.
Life sentencing seems to be the order of the day in the largest democracy in the world, as India likes to call itself. Recent instances of life sentencing, all in March 2017, have dropped the veil of democracy off from the last institution meant to uphold it, the judiciary. This time, with the murder of judicial equity. We must beware the Ides of March!
In a shocking, highly controversial judgment delivered on 7 March 2017, Suryakant Shinde, sessions judge at Gadchiroli District Court, Maharashtra, convicted G N Saibaba (professor, Delhi University), Prashant Rahi (journalist from Uttarakhand), Hem Mishra (cultural activist and student at Jawaharlal Nehru University), Mahesh Tirki, Pandu Narote and Vijay Tirki (tribal residents of Gadchiroli) under Sections 13,18, 20, 38 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967 and Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). All but Vijay Tirki, who was given 10 years of rigorous imprisonment, were sentenced to life imprisonment.