The Amendment Bill in the pipeline specifies that several offences of the Penal Code for “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy” will not be bailable or compoundable, notes Jeyakumar Devaraj.
Parliament concluded its sitting yesterday. We will reconvene in mid-May for a short eight-day second session.
Going by the Order Paper for yesterday, the first item on the May agenda would be DR 9/2015 – An Act to amend the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC).
I took a quick look at this amendment and was quite disconcerted to read Clause 18 of the Amendment Bill which specifies that several offences – 124B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I and J of the Penal Code – are not bailable or compoundable. This means anyone charged under any of these sections would have to remain in jail until the completion of his or her trial – a process that may take more than 18 months.
Offences 124B to J were added to the Penal Code by an amendment to that Act in 2012.
- 124B states “whoever commits an activity detrimental to parliamentary democracy shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 20 years”.
- 124D states “whoever circulates or reproduces any document detrimental to parliamentary democracy shall be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 15 years”.
- 124E pertains to possession of such documents, 124F to import of the same, 124G pertains to placards and so on.
The Penal Code amendment was silent on the issue of bail and fine as a form of punishment. The amendment that has been tabled to the CPC seems to be tightening the screws.
To be fair to the government, the 2012 amendment to the Penal Code does specify under Clause 130A what they mean by “activities detrimental to parliamentary democracy”. It refers to “any activity designed to overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by violent or unconstitutional means”.
To most rational people that would mean that a street rally asking for a corrupt leader to resign should not be classified under 124B, as the right to assemble and to express opinions is one of our constitutional rights.
But what worries me is that our present set of top police officers are inclined to consider preservation of the current prime minister as their foremost duty to the nation. There is a real possibility that they will interpret the term “detrimental” far too liberally and use it to lock up people protesting corruption or injustice.
I would therefore urge civil society groups to take a look at the proposed amendment and, if like me, you also feel alarmed, get together and enlist Suhakam to pressure the government to tone down on these amendments or to specify more clearly what “unconstitutional means” refers to.
I fear we are going to see a lot more repression.