With many activists charged under anti-terror laws languishing in jails, Justice DY Chandrachud of the Supreme Court of India has said criminal laws should not be used to muzzle dissent.

“The criminal laws, including the anti-terror legislation, should not be misused for quelling dissent or for the harassment of citizens,” Justice Chandrachud said while speaking on the “role of the Supreme Court in protecting fundamental rights in challenging times” at an Indo-US conference on legal ties.

Citing his own judgment in Arnab Goswami’s case, Justice Chandrachud said the courts must ensure that they continued to remain the first line of defence against the deprivation of liberty of citizens.

“Deprivation of liberty even for a single day is one too many. We must always be mindful of the deeper systemic implications of our decisions,” he said.

Justice Chandrachud’s remarks came after 84-year-old activist Stan Swamy, who was arrested under the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) in the Elgar Parishad case, died at a Mumbai hospital waiting for the disposal of his bail plea.

Justice Chandrachud said it was the duty of the top court to “protect the rights of socio-economic minorities”.

“The Supreme Court has to act in furtherance of its role as sentinel on the qui vive (watchful guardian) and respond to the call of constitutional conscience and it is this role that prompts it to address the challenges of the 21st century, ranging from the pandemic to the rise of intolerance, features of which we find across the world,” he said.

He, however, said while being acutely aware of this responsibility, judges were careful about maintaining separation of powers.

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