Amnesty International slams Indian anti-terror law
Amnesty International on Friday slammed India's new anti-terror legislation to beef up police powers in the wake of the Mumbai attacks, saying it violates international human rights treaties.
The London-based human rights group called on India's president not to approve the legislation, which would double the number of days police can detain terror suspects before filing charges, to 180 days from 90 days, as well as boost their powers to conduct searches.
Both houses of India's Parliament passed the bill this week, following last month's attacks on Mumbai by suspected Islamic terrorists that killed 164 people. It now needs President Pratibha Patil's approval before becoming law.
"While we utterly condemn the attacks and recognize that the Indian authorities have a right and duty to take effective measures to ensure the security of the population, security concerns should never be used to jeopardize people's human rights," Madhu Malhotra, Asia Pacific program deputy director at Amnesty International, said in a statement.
Officials at India's Home Ministry, which drafted the bill, could not immediately be reached for comment Friday.
The government's top law enforcement official, Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram, defended the bill in Parliament on Wednesday as providing an "adequate balance" between "the demands of human rights and the people of India for strong anti-terror laws."
The Mumbai attacks revealed glaring gaps in the nation's security systems and a shaky intelligence apparatus that missed several warning signs of the siege, which lasted for three days and paralyzed much of India's financial capital.
The anti-terror bill, which was sent to Parliament along with a bill to create an FBI-style national investigation agency, was meant to beef up the powers of India's police and judicial system to combat terrorists.
But Amnesty said the process was hasty and would likely undermine the rule of law and violate international human rights treaties. It did not specify the treaties.
In particular, Amnesty raised concerns about the sweeping definition of terrorism, extending the detention of suspects to up to 180 days, denying bail to foreigners who enter the country illegally, and the requirements, in certain circumstances, for the accused to prove their innocence.
It also condemned giving courts the right to close proceedings to the public.
Communist opposition parties had called for changes to the bill, fearing human rights abuses, but ultimately voted in favour.
"To detain a person for up to 180 days will be an infringement of his human rights. We are against it," Basudeb Acharia, a senior leader of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) told the Associated Press.
Despite Chidambaram's assurances, the government has long resisted introducing a tougher anti-terror law since repealing a law written by the Hindu nationalist BJP after coming to power in 2004, saying it was draconian and would unfairly target India's large Muslim minority.
"India's experience with previous anti-terrorism laws has shown that they can lead to abusive practices," Amnesty said.
India has blamed the Pakistani-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba for the attacks and called on Pakistan to take strong action.
Pakistan has made some arrests and shut the offices of a charity believed linked to Lashkar. But Pakistan has also said India has failed to share evidence from the attack that would allow it to act.