Context:

The Supreme Court  agreed to examine a fresh plea by a former army officer challenging the Constitutional validity of the sedition law on the ground that it causes “chilling effect” on speech and is an unreasonable restriction on free expression, a fundamental right.

Relevance:

GS-II: Polity and Governance (Constitutional Provisions – Fundamental Rights, Government Interventions and Policies, Issues arising out of the design and implementation of Government Policies)

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is Sedition?
  2. About Sedition law
  3. Criticism of Sedition laws

What is Sedition?

Sedition, which falls under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, is defined as any action that brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt towards the government of India and has been illegal in India since 1870.

Historical background of Sedition laws

  • Sedition as a concept comes from Elizabethan England, where if you criticised the king and were fomenting a rebellion, it was a crime against the state.
  • When they ruled India, the British feared Wahhabi rebellion. They brought the [sedition] law in, and it was used against our freedom fighters as well.
  • We must remember that both Mahatma Gandhi and [Bal Gangadhar] Tilak were tried under this law and sentenced.
  • Government didn’t remove it because every administrator has this thought that dissent is okay, but beyond a certain point it gets dangerous and an administration must have the means to control it.
  • Previously policemen were much more independent. But since Indian independence, the independence of the police has also been severely compromised. So, any local leader can almost bully a policeman into registering a case.

About Sedition law

The law was originally drafted by Thomas Macaulay. Since its introduction in 1870, meaning of the term, as well as its ambit, has changed significantly.

Sedition is a cognisable, non-compoundable, and non-bailable offence, under which sentencing can be between three years to imprisonment for life.

About Section 124A of Indian Penal Code (IPC)

  • The Indian Penal Code in Section 124A lays down the offence:
  • “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 in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”
  • A person charged under this law can’t apply for a government job. They have to live without their passport and must present themselves in the court as and when required.

Criticism of Sedition laws

  • Colonial Era law: It is a colonial relic and a preventive provision that should only be read as an emergency measure.
  • Right to Freedom of expression: Use of Section 124A by the government might go beyond the reasonable restrictions provided under fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression as per Article 19 of the Constitution.
  • Democratic foundation: Dissent and criticism of the government are essential ingredients of robust public debate in a vibrant democracy and therefore, should not be constructed as sedition. The sedition law is being misused as a tool to persecute political dissent.
  • Lower Conviction Rate: Though police are charging more people with sedition, few cases actually result in a conviction. Since 2016, only four sedition cases have seen a conviction in court which indicates that sedition as an offence has no solid legal grounding in India.
  • Vague provision of sedition laws: The terms used under Section 124A like ‘disaffection’ are vague and subject to different interpretation to the whims and fancies of the investigating officers.
  • Other legal measure for offences against the state: Indian Penal Code and Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (1967), have provisions that penalize “disrupting the public order” or “overthrowing the government with violence and illegal means”. These are sufficient for protecting the national integrity. o Similarly, the Prevention of Damage to Public Property Act is also there for offences against the state.
  • Perception of law: Globally, sedition is increasingly viewed as a draconian law and was revoked in the United Kingdom in 2010. In Australia, following the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) the term sedition was removed.

-Source: The Hindu, Indian Express

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