Akhil Gogoi was the face of anti-CAA protests in Assam. He had been in jail since December 2019 after being charged under the UAPA by the National Investigation Agency for alleged criminal conspiracy, sedition, promoting enmity between groups on grounds such as religion, race and language, assertions against national integrity, and support to a terrorist organisation.
During his term in jail, Gogoi fought the Assembly election to win from the Sibsagar Assembly constituency in eastern Assam. He was released on Thursday after a special NIA court exonerated him from all charges under the UAPA. Apart from implicating him for his active role in the anti-CAA protest in Assam, the BJP government in the state had also linked him with a Maoist organisation.
A special NIA court in Guwahati cleared him of all charges under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act or UAPA, under sedition and under sections that figure in a terror-related law for his alleged role in violent anti-Citizenship (Amendment) Act (CAA) protests in the state in December 2019.
Gogoi, who spent 18 months in captivity from December 2019, walked out of Gauhati Medical College and Hospital on Thursday, where he was being treated under judicial custody for various ailments since July last year. Immediately after his release, Gogoi termed the verdict "historic".
Talking to our correspondent R Zaman, he said he wants to start a movement against the misuse of anti-terror law UAPA [Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act]. Calling the UAPA a draconian law, he vowed he will fight for the people who have been wrongly booked under the UAPA. Below are the excerpts from the interview.
How do you see the verdict?
Today for us, it's a historic day for an independent judiciary. An undeclared emergency is going on in the country. Nowhere in the country could find a democratic atmosphere. But this judgement gives us hope about the judiciary.
The verdict has increased the hopes of activists, who are languishing in jails across the country after being falsely implicated under the UAPA. The verdict is a ringing bell for the Union Home Minister Amit Shah, Assam Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma and the NIA DG to resign from their respective posts. The dismissal of the charges, including the sedition, against me vindicates my stand.
This is a miracle —that's what I told my advocate. I had never thought a strong, brave and historic verdict like this could come from the Indian judiciary — especially during the rule of the BJP, where its [judiciary's] role has been perceived as so weak in recent years. But this judgment proves otherwise — it will set a precedent for the entire country.
What are the issues you intend to focus on as a legislator?
First, to fight the implementation of CAA, restore the federal structure of India, as well as other issues like land rights, which I have always spoken up for. For Sibsagar, I would work for its development and also bring to focus its rich archaeological history and thereby, help it attain the status of a World Heritage Site. For Assam, I will fight hard so that it does not become another Uttar Pradesh. We want Assam to be secular and democratic. The current government has only one political program: eviction of minorities. They terrorise and subjugate minorities to win the support of the majority. We must speak up against this menace.
In the first session of the Assembly, the Chief Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma, had said you were being treated for mental health issues. What do you have to say about that?
Nobody can declare a man a 'mental patient'. Being a Chief Minister and a former Health Minister, he announced publicly that I am a mental patient. This is nothing but a crime under the mental health act. This declaration has only revealed his character, not mine. So I have no more to say about tha.
What is your next move?
I lost more than 18 months. I thank the judiciary for having dismissed the NIA charge and I request the NIA Chief to resign. The cases have destroyed my family but I will continue to raise my voice in the interest of Assam and the people of Sivasagar who ensured my victory in the Assembly polls even though I was in judicial custody.
I will not remain silent. I warn the government to check corruption and price rise. I will work to provide relief to COVID-hit vendors, cab drivers, artists and farmers.