JIH Vice President Prof Salim Warns New Criminal Laws Could Lead India Towards ‘Police State

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India Tomorrow

NEW DELHI — Jamaat-e-Islami Hind (JIH) Vice President Prof. Salim Engineer, has expressed deep concern over the newly implemented criminal laws in India, warning that they could push the country towards a ‘police state’. The remarks were made during JIH’s monthly press briefing at its headquarters in New Delhi on Saturday.

Several Concerning Aspects of the New Laws

The new laws, which replace the Indian Penal Code (IPC), Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), and Evidence Act, have been criticized for potentially impacting freedom of speech and dissent under the guise of security concerns. Starting July 2024, cases will be governed by these newly passed Bharatiya Nyay Sanhita (BNS) and Bharatiya Nagarik Suraksha Sanhita (BNSS) laws, both before and after July 1st.
Terming the new laws as dangerous, suggesting they could be easily misused against citizens, Prof. Salim criticized the government for making drastic changes to the country’s criminal justice system without adequate discussion or debate in Parliament, noting they were passed in December 2023 amidst the suspension of many opposition members.

Prof. Salim highlighted that the new laws lack provisions to hold police officers accountable for filing false cases. They grant discretion to the police in registering FIRs for crimes punishable by 3 to 7 years of imprisonment, potentially leading to corruption and hindering marginalized sections from filing FIRs. This could result in longer detentions and misuse of power, undermining civil liberties. While he praised efforts to digitize the justice system by 2027, he criticized its potential discrimination against the poor and marginalized who lack access to technology and the internet. He emphasized the necessity of making police and security agencies accountable for genuine decolonization of the legal system.

In response to questions about the government’s intentions behind these laws, the JIH leader stated it is clear the government aims to move towards a police state, adopting a fascist mentality suppress dissenting voices and their opponents.

Nadeem Khan, National Secretary of the Association for Protection of Civil Rights (APCR), drew parallels between the new laws and the colonial-era Rowlatt Act of 1919, which allowed for detention without trial or judicial review. Khan noted that the new laws were passed when about 145 members of parliament were suspended from the house in December.

Nadeem Khan asserted that the new laws complicate the legal process and highlighted significant flaws. He noted that under the new law, police have been given full authority to handcuff any accused (not yet convicted), whereas the Supreme Court has only permitted handcuffing in the rarest of rare cases, with police generally lacking such authority in 99% of cases.

Previously, Nadeem explained, police could detain an accused for up to 15 days, after which an advocate could apply for bail. However, under the new laws, police remand can extend up to 90 days, reversing the judiciary’s principle that ‘bail is the rule and jail is the exception’. He added that previously, when police detained or arrested a person, they were required to present them before a magistrate within 24 hours. Now, there is no mention of a specific detention period in the new law, allowing detentions ranging from 24 hours to several days.

Regarding electronic evidence, Nadeem rejected its validity as proof, citing repeated court clarifications about the potential for manipulation. Despite this, he pointed out that electronic evidence is accepted under the new law. Furthermore, Nadeem asserted that police now have the power to seize any electronic equipment, such as mobile phones or laptops, without a warrant. For example, if police allege wrongdoing in WhatsApp messages, they can seize the mobile phone and detain the owner, making it difficult to obtain bail.

Nadeem disclosed that APCR plans to file a petition in the Supreme Court against the new laws once the judiciary’s vacation ends in 3-4 days. He also stated that they are writing to all state governments, urging them not to implement these discriminatory laws until necessary amendments are made. They demand that the Central government refer these laws to review and parliamentary standing committees for evaluation and necessary adjustments.

Commenting on changes to the definition of terrorism under the new laws, Nadeem criticized the broader and vaguer definition introduced. He noted that previously, the NIA had the authority to investigate terrorism cases nationwide, supplemented by state anti-terror squads. However, under the new laws, the definition of terrorism has been expanded to include minor offenses such as sharing small posts on social media. Local police are now empowered to investigate such sensitive cases.

Nadeem argued that the new legal system grants excessive power to the police over citizens. He criticized the shift from the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ to ‘guilty until proven innocent by the judiciary’. He emphasized that while laws are meant to ensure the safety of all citizens, the current system risks punishing innocent individuals while allowing many perpetrators to go unpunished.

In response to a question, Nadeem Khan cited an example illustrating the challenges under the new laws. He mentioned efforts to file an FIR in Delhi’s Sangam Vihar against a BJP leader accused of making hate speech threatening to slaughter two lakh Muslims over two weeks. These efforts failed due to police excuses. Nadeem highlighted that after the implementation of the new laws on July 1st, it has become nearly impossible to file such an FIR, as police now have discretion over whether to register it or not.

Post-Election Rise in Anti-Muslim Violence

Prof. Salim expressed alarm over a disturbing increase in communal violence, lynching incidents, and demolitions across various regions of India following the recent Lok Sabha elections. He called on the government to take immediate action to end the communal targeting of Muslims and ensure the safety of all citizens. The JIH leader demanded strict implementation of the clause within the Bharatiya Nyaya (Second) Sanhita, 2023, which prescribes severe punishments for mob lynching, including life imprisonment or death. He also called for a comprehensive statement from the Home Minister of India addressing these issues and a commitment to end targeted mob lynching, illegal demolitions, and hate crimes against the Muslim community.

Nadeem Khan presented a brief report tracked by the APCR, alleging that minorities, especially Muslims, are being targeted post-election. He cited examples from various states, including BJP-ruled, opposition-led, and Congress-governed regions. Khan mentioned that the APCR had documented eight lynching and mob attack incidents within one month after the General Elections, spread across states including Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, and West Bengal. Nadeem Khan asserted that approximately 90% of these cases appear to be politically motivated. He also noted at least 11 lynching incidents in West Bengal during the same period.

Speaking on the matter, Nadeem Khan alleged that minorities, especially Muslims, are being targeted as a collective punishment for voting against the government or the ruling party. He asserted that no state, whether ruled by the BJP, opposition parties, or Congress, is exempt from such targeting. As an example, he mentioned Himachal Pradesh, where under Congress rule, Javed Qureshi from Shamli in UP posted a video of cattle slaughtering during Eid, resulting in his shop being looted in Himachal. Meanwhile, UP police arrested Javed Qureshi, who was in Shamli at the time. Nadeem Khan criticized the media for focusing solely on Javed Qureshi’s shop looting incident while ignoring the total of 18 looted shops and the displacement of 11 Muslim families from Nahan town in Himachal Pradesh. Later, he mentioned a total of eight lynching and mob attack incidents documented by the APCR within one month following the General Elections results, occurring across various states including UP, Gujarat, and West Bengal.

Discussing the demolition of various houses belonging to Muslims in UP and Madhya Pradesh based on initial FIRs with half-truths or unproven allegations against Muslim men, Nadeem criticized these actions as ‘bulldozer justice’. He pointed out that if justice is to be delivered through ‘bulldozers’, courts might as well be shut down. He also addressed the communal violence in Telangana’s Medak, criticizing the discriminatory role of the police in the incident.

In response to a question, Nadeem replied that the BJP and NDA suffered defeats in all nine places where Narendra Modi had delivered hate speeches against Muslims during his poll campaigns.

NEET and NET Exam Controversies

Prof. Salim criticized the government’s handling of recent controversies surrounding the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) and National Eligibility Test (NET) examinations. He called for an impartial inquiry into allegations of malpractice in the NEET (UG) 2024 examination and an independent audit to ensure transparency and restore trust in the examination process.

The JIH leader argued that the concept of “one nation, one exam” has proven to be a failure and urged the central government to decentralize these exams, allowing state governments to conduct them. He demanded urgent steps to restore faith in the examination system and punish those found guilty of irregularities.

Regarding the cancellation of the UGC-NET 2024 exam, Prof. Salim called it a serious blunder by the National Testing Agency (NTA), affecting the future of lakhs of students. He demanded a detailed explanation from the Education Minister and the NTA Chairman in an open press conference.

Public Safety Concerns and Incidents like Hathras, Train and Airport accidents

Expressing grave concern over the sudden decline in public safety in the country due to numerous accidents and incidents resulting in a significant number of fatalities, JIH national secretary Shafi Madani highlighted several incidents. These included the Kanchanjunga Express train accident on June 19, 2024, occurring just a year after the Balasore (Odisha) train accident which claimed the lives of more than 260 people, as well as the Delhi Airport accident on June 28 where a collapsed canopy resulted in the death of a taxi driver, and the stampede at a religious gathering in Hathras, Uttar Pradesh, which led to over 120 deaths.

Madani stated that these incidents indicate a failure to learn from past mistakes or implement corrective measures, raising doubts about the integrity of mandatory infrastructure audits at sensitive locations. He questioned whether these audits were conducted periodically and accurately.

Calling on the government to implement stringent measures to prevent similar incidents in the future, Madani emphasized the need for a high-level investigation into these incidents and for holding accountable those found guilty. He stressed that ensuring safety at religious gatherings and public events should be a top priority for the government. The JIH official urged the government to take all necessary actions to safeguard lives and prevent such tragedies from recurring, emphasizing that public safety must always be the government’s foremost priority.

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