Explained: What is the sedition law, and why is the Supreme Court’s latest directive important

Supreme Court on Wednesday directed To adjourn all pending trials, appeals and proceedings in respect of the charge leveled under the Center and the States Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with the offense of rebellionUnless the Central Government carries out the promised exercise to reconsider and re-examine the provision.

The central government had initially defended the colonial provision, but later told the apex court that it was reviewing it.

What is sedition law?

Section 124A defines sedition as: “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visual representation, or otherwise, attempts to bring about hatred or contempt, or incites commits or attempts to incite dissatisfaction with the Government. shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added…”

The provision also includes three explanations: 1- The expression “dissent” includes all feelings of betrayal and hostility; 2. Comments expressing disapproval of the measures of Government with a view to achieving their transformation by lawful means, without incitement or attempt to incite hatred, contempt or displeasure, shall not constitute an offense under this section does; 3- Comments expressing disapproval of administrative or other action of the Government without incitement or attempt to incite hatred, contempt or displeasure do not constitute an offense under this section.

What are the origins of the sedition law?

Although Thomas Macaulay, who drafted the Indian Penal Code, included the law on sedition, it was not added to the code enacted in 1860. Legal experts believe that the omission was accidental. In 1890, sedition was included as an offense under Section 124A IPC through Special Act XVII.

The then prescribed punishment, transport “beyond the sea for the duration of his natural life”, was modified to life imprisonment in 1955.

This provision was widely used to curb political dissent during the freedom movement. Several pre-independence cases involving Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code are against famous freedom fighters including Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Annie Besant, Shaukat and Mohammad Ali, Maulana Azad and Mahatma Gandhi. The most notable trial on sedition during this time – Maharani Maharani v Bal Gangadhar Tilak – took place in 1898.

Courts largely followed a literal interpretation of the provision, which stated that “… to uphold the legitimate right of the government to render obedience to and to uphold the lawful right of the government.” or disapproval must be ‘compatible’ with a disposition to oppose.

The Constituent Assembly debated including sedition as an exception to the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed in the Constitution, but many members strongly disagreed and the term is not included in the document.

Legal challenge to section 124A of IPC

In the early 1950s, the Supreme Court in Romesh Thapar v State of Madras held that “criticism of the government to incite dissatisfaction or ill-feeling towards it, not as a just ground for restricting the freedom of expression and of the press”. unless it tends to undermine the security of the State or to overthrow the State.” Justice Patanjali Shastri referred to the deliberate deletion of the word sedition from the Constitution by the Constituent Assembly to read the law liberally.

Subsequently, two High Courts – the Punjab and Haryana High Court in Tara Singh Gopi Chand v State (1951), and the Allahabad High Court in Ram Nandan v State of Uttar Pradesh (1959) – declared Section 124A of the IPC. It was primarily a tool for colonial masters to suppress discontent in the country and declared the provision unconstitutional.

However, in 1962, the issue came before the Supreme Court in Kedarnath Singh v State of Bihar.

Kedarnath is ruling on treason

The five-judge Constitution Bench set aside the earlier decisions of the High Courts and upheld the constitutional validity of Section 124A of the IPC. However, the court attempted to limit its scope for abuse. The court held that criticism of the government cannot be termed as sedition unless accompanied by an incitement or call for violence. The ruling prohibited sedition only because seditious speech incited “public disorder” – a phrase not covered in Section 124A itself, but read as by the court.

The court also issued seven “guidelines”, outlining when critical speech cannot qualify as sedition.

In its guidelines for using the new, restrictive definition of the sedition law, the court said that not all speech against the state accompanied by “discontent,” “hatred,” or “contempt,” but only speech that would “incite public disorder.” likely to provoke. deserving of treason.

After the Kedarnath verdict, “public disorder” has been recognized as a necessary component for the commission of sedition. The court has held that raising slogans alone with no threat to public order would not qualify as sedition.

This judgment in Balwant Singh v State of Punjab (1995) reiterated that the actual intent of the speech should be taken into account before terming it as seditious. The petitioners were charged with sedition for raising slogans of “”.Khalistan Zindabad, Raj Karega Khalsa, Hindu Nun Punjab Chon Kadh Ke Chhadange, Hun Mauka Aya Hai Raj Kayam Kar“(Hindus will leave Punjab and we will rule) etc in public place.

In subsequent rulings – Dr Vinayak Binayak Sen v State of Chhattisgarh (2011), – the court also held that a person could be convicted of sedition even if he was not the author of the seditious speech, but only circulated it. Is.

in 2016 Arun Jaitley v State of Uttar Pradesh, Allahabad High Court held that criticism of the judiciary or the court’s decision – Former Union Minister Arun Jaitley in a blog post criticized the Supreme Court’s 2016 decision declaring the National Judicial Appointments Commission unconstitutional – that it There will be no treason.

Successive reports from the Law Commission of India and even the Supreme Court have highlighted the rampant misuse of the sedition law. A textual deviation in Kedar Nath guidelines and law accuses the police of differentiating between legitimate speech and seditious speech.

Just last year, in Vinod Dua v Union of India, the Supreme Court quashed an FIR with sedition charges against the journalist for criticizing the Prime Minister. Narendra Modihandling of COVID-19 Cautioned against distress and unlawful application of the provision.

What is the latest challenge to the sedition law?

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a fresh challenge against the provision after a batch of petitions were filed by journalists, Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha, Kanhaiya Lal Shukla; and Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, among others. This would involve a seven-judge bench, considering whether the Kedarnath verdict was adjudicated correctly.

Although the government initially defended the provision, saying there was no need to remove the “segregated incidents of abuse” provision, it has now told the court that It is considering a new review of colonial law.

The petitioners have argued that the restricted Kedar Nath definition of sedition can be addressed through several other laws, including stringent anti-terror laws such as the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act.

court intervention Important because if it repeals the provision, it will have to nullify Kedar Nath’s decision and uphold the earlier decisions which were liberal on free speech. However, if the government decides to review the law, either by reducing the language or repeal it, it can still roll back the provision in a different form.

Sedition laws in other countries

in United KingdomThe sedition law was officially repealed under Section 73 of the Coroners and Justice Act, 2009, citing a chilling effect on freedom of speech and expression. The common law on treason, which is found in the Statute of Westminster, 1275, when the king was considered the holder of a divine right, was called “arcane” and “from a bygone era when freedom of expression was not seen as a right.” was” was called. it is today.”

in United States of americaSedition is a federal offense under Federal Criminal Code, Section 2384, and is now being used against rioters. Attack on the Capitol on 6 January, Despite the First Amendment, which forbids any restrictions on free speech, “conspiracy to directly interfere with the operation of government” and not just speech is considered treason.

Australia repealed its sedition law in 2010, and last year, Singapore It also repealed the law saying that many of the new laws could adequately address the real need for a sedition law without its chilling effects.

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