The Danger of India's POTO

Revolutionary Worker #1145, April 7, 2002, posted at

On March 26, the Indian parliament passed a controversial new "anti-terrorism law"--the Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance. POTO sets strict new rules for arrest, interrogation and investigation:

India is following the example of the United States. Using the so-called "war on terrorism," it is instituting heavy repressive measures that can be used against anyone the government doesn't like--including genuine revolutionary groups.

POTO specifically targets two revolutionary Maoist groups that are waging armed struggle-- the Maoist Communist Centre and the Communist Party of India (ML) People's War--outlawing them altogether. And as POTO was being passed into law, Indian officials were declaring renewed support for the reactionary Nepalese government's fight against the popular Maoist insurgency that's been going on since 1996.

Elements of POTO had already been in force under a presidential decree back in December, but the ordinance was scheduled to lapse in April if not passed into law.

From the beginning, human rights groups opposed POTO, pointing out that its extreme measures give the government freedom to violate all kinds of constitutional and human rights. Critics of POTO say that in the few months POTO has been in effect, it has already been ruthlessly used to intimidate Muslims in India and intensify repression in the disputed Himalayan region of Kashmir.

Indian law had prohibited confessions unless they were made voluntarily in court. POTO now changes Indian law to admit confessions made to police as evidence, and many are fearful this will lead to even more "torture confessions." POTO also gives the police more room to cover up human rights abuses with a clause that gives impunity to security forces that can prove they acted in "good faith" while handling a case.

POTO sets forth a broad definition of "terrorism" that includes acts of violence or disruption of essential services carried out with "intent to threaten the unity and integrity of India or to strike terror in any part of the people"--a vague and loose definition that gives the government wide powers to target and persecute anyone they want.

Ravi Nair, director of the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center in New Delhi, said, "Because it lets you lock up a person and throw the key away, the police [are] going to abuse the new law. People don't want this bill because of their earlier experience with the anti-terrorism law and its abuse. They don't want a police state."

For many years, India used TADA (the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities [Prevention] Act, 1987) to detain those it suspected of carrying out "anti-national" activities. In areas of armed conflict such as Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab and the Northeast, security forces were given increased powers under other "special legislation" and TADA was used to detain people throughout India. Implementation of this act led to widespread human rights violations, and many innocent people were detained. TADA allowed for detention for long periods without charge or trial and individuals were detained pending trial for years at a time without the hope of bail.

In 1995, following a sustained campaign by human rights organizations, the Indian parliament was forced to not re-authorize TADA.

Now POTO basically reinstates a modified version of the notorious TADA-- which facilitated tens of thousands of arrests, detentions, and acts of torture in violation of international law, and was used to crack down on political opponents, social activists, and human rights defenders.

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