A 34-year-old 'techie' Abhay Devdas Nayak was abducted by the Chattisgarh police on 31 May 2018 from Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport and presented before the media on 12 June, as a "top Maoist propagandist." That he could be picked up by the police and kept in illegal custody and then shown as ‘arrested’ after a gap of 12 days, and presented before the media, completely brazenly violating norms and procedures of law is highly condemnable and a matter of great concern. The fact that no noise has been made about this kind of violation is shocking. Accusation against a person of being associated with a banned organisation like CPI (Maoist) is used by the police to violate his rights with impunity, counting on public silence on this.
Abhay Nayak has been booked under Section 120 (B) (criminal conspiracy), S 4 and 5 of Explosives Substances Act, and S 38 and 39 of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) related to charges of membership of and support for a "terrorist organisation" respectively. The CPI(Maoists)’s proscribed status as a ‘terrorist organization’ under the UAPA, allow the police to target virtually everyone they wish to, as anyone they allege to be a member of a banned organization (without a trial establishing this) can be held guilty of all the crimes attributed to the Maoists. This was confirmed by the Special DG Anti-Naxal Operations D.M. Awasthi, when, speaking about the charges against Nayak, he declared that "When you are involved in Maoism and connected with everyone, you are automatically part of all the crimes". This kind of sweeping accusation and presumption of guilt is utterly dangerous for the possibility of justice to say the least.
The case against Abhay Nayak is utterly vague and based on numerous presumptions. The police are claiming that he was implicated in a 2013 case, though he has now been shown as arrested in a 2017 case. The 2013 case relates with an IED blast where they found CPI (Maoist) leaflets issued in name of 'Abhay' and 'Vikalp' – they presume that this refers to Abhay Nayak. Based on the fact that he posts articles and statements related to Naxalism the police have again presumed that Abhay Nayak must be a propagandist for the CPI (Maoist) and accused him of being part of Co-ordination of Maoist Party and Organisation in South Asia and for issuing press statements on behalf of the underground party under the name of ‘Abhay,’‘Vikalp’ and ‘Azad’. Other presumptions being used are that he had visited Bastar twice so he must be in touch with the Maoists, and that his microfinance blog must be a cover for his Maoist activities. These flimsy grounds and the coincidence of bearing a common Indian name are apparently enough for his arrest using UAPA.
When he managed to speak briefly to journalists in presence of the police on 12 June, Abhay Nayak completely denied these charges, stated that he is not the same ‘Abhay’ and said that he is a freelance journalist who ran a website where he would upload news regarding the Maoists.
Nayak’s arrest has many parallels with the five recent arrests of Rona Wilson, Shoma Sen, Surendra Gadling, Mahesh Raut and Sudhir Dhawale, under UAPA, booked under similar charges of being associated with Maoists. The police are also trying to show that they were connected. In all of these the state, ably abetted by the draconian UAPA, is seeking to create a new bogey of the ‘urban Maoists’ linked in a network across the country. The police are trying to show that Abhay Nayak and some of the above were in touch with each other. Using strange logic, Nayak has been accused of being connected to Maoists because he was in touch with some of the five, though the latters’ culpability has not been proved! The police claim to have created grounds for more arrests by tracking emails etc. and establishing more such ‘connections’.
The UAPA, the use of which is common to all such arrests, allows presumption of guilt, and alleged ‘intention’ to commit crimes to become the basis of arrests, incarceration, and prolonged denial of bail. As in the now revoked TADA and POTA, the UAPA gives the state a tool for long periods of preventive detention of dissenters and opponents. Like its abolished predecessors the UAPA also criminalises any kind of association with arbitrarily banned organsation (under the same law).
What links these recent arrests of so-called ‘urban Maoists’ is the targeting of those who have been legally and democratically raising questions of the rights of political prisoners, adivasis, dalits etc., and critiquing violations of rights by the state.
UAPA is being used by the police, in Nayak’s case as well as the five arrested earlier to silence these voices, and then ‘go fishing’ to ‘gather’ evidence for the new charges being concocted against them continuously. Few will dare to question the authenticity of the evidence since it could be tantamount to ‘association’ with the accused, apparently a crime under the terrifying regime of this law.
It is to prevent this scenario from becoming a reality that PUDR strongly reiterates its demand for the immediate repeal of the UAPA. We condemn the arrest of Abhay Nayak under this law, demand action against those responsible for his abduction illegal detention, and demand his unconditional release.
Shashi Saxena and Shahana Bhattacharya