Sunday, July 03, 2022

Contentious Sedition Law

By The Editorial Team Updated: May 12, 2022 11:22 pm

The Supreme Court of India’s landmark interim order on Wednesday, which puts on hold the contentious sedition law, is a welcome move in favour of free speech. A three-judge bench led by Chief Justice of India NV Ramana has directed that all pending trials, appeals and proceedings under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code be kept in abeyance. It asked the Centre and state governments to refrain from registering fresh cases till the government of India completes re-examination of the provision, and that affected parties can approach the court for relief citing the apex court’s current order. The court said that the colonial regime statute is no longer in tune with the current social milieu, even as it referred to Attorney General of India KK Venugopal’s concerns in connection with misuse of the law and Centre’s intent to review the provision. Though the final decision on the issue is pending, it is a move in the right direction with the central government being given the responsibility to re-examine it and at the same time sending out a clear message that the law, which is more than 130 years old, needs to be changed, if not scrapped completely.

The enactment of this law dates back to 1890, used by the British government as a tool to stifle political dissent during the independence movement and cases were slapped on several Indian freedom fighters. The law, which was amended in 1955, says that “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added”. This, many have been terming as a device to suppress freedom of speech and expression, a fundamental right; and its constitutional validity being challenged in the courts for decades. It has come under intense public scrutiny of late amid hundreds of people, including activists and journalists, being charged under the law over the past few years. According to the National Crime Records Bureau data, 356 sedition-related cases were registered between 2015 and 2020. The Editors Guild of India, which is one of the petitioners challenging the sedition law, has also accused the central and state governments of using it against journalists to curb independent reporting. So, the apex court’s latest order holds much significance. This time, the government of India has also proposed to review the provisions of the controversial law, citing Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s strong intent to protect civil liberties. It’s now time to take note of the apex court’s order and end misuse of sedition law without delay.

By The Editorial Team Updated: May 12, 2022 11:22:39 pm