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Mainstream, VOL LX No 21, New Delhi, May 14, 2022

Statement by MASUM on Supreme Court’s view on sedition law

Saturday 14 May 2022

Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)

“The notion of sedition bears reference to a less enlightened time, when citizens and the press had little liberty to question the conduct of public authorities” –- International Federation of Journalists

MASUM welcomes the interim order, with caution, by the three-judges Bench of the Supreme Court presided by Chief Justice N.V. Ramana on putting a pause to the use of sedition law until further notice. This law has often been misused as a tool against free speech and dissent. The colonial law had mainly been used in the 19th and early 20th century against the Indian political leaders who demanded independence. In recent times it is being used by the government against students, journalists, film makers, teachers, even human rights activists and anyone else, who have been a protesting voice against the action / decision of the state. The conviction rate of this law in our country is only 3%, hence this law is nothing but a tool used by the political party in power to suppress the dissents. Even after 75 years of independence there are many such draconian laws, which proves that democracy has not been contextualized in India and we are still suffering from the colonial hangover. In the U.K. the sedition law was abolished in 2010. Laws like Section 197 of Criminal Procedure Code, Section 229 of Indian Penal Code are equally pernicious and should not find any place in modern democracy. We must remember that in 1860 when our penal code was established, the section 124A was not incorporated in the same; but in 1870, mainly with the purpose to suppress the Wahabi movement, the Britishers introduced the section 124A. The law was later used against the freedom fighters, like Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi. These "Ekushe Aain" should be repealed without delay. Laws like these are undemocratic, irrelevant and oppressive and have been weaponized as a medium of suppressing free speech.

As early as 1950, the Supreme Court in Romesh Thapar v State of Madras held that “criticism of the government exciting disaffection or bad feelings towards it, is not to be regarded as a justifying ground for restricting the freedom of expression and of the press, unless it is such as to undermine the security of or tend to overthrow the state.” Justice Patanjali Shastri cited the Constituent Assembly’s deliberate omission of the word sedition from the Constitution for the liberal reading of the law.

In the Kedarnath case [1], on using the new, restrictive definition of sedition law, the court said not all speech with “disaffection”, “hatred,” or “contempt” against the state, but only speech that is likely to incite “public disorder” would qualify as sedition. Successive reports of the Law Commission of India [2] and even the Supreme Court, have underlined the rampant misuse of the sedition law.

MASUM condemns the section 124A of the Indian Penal Code and supports the order of the honorable bench presided by Chief Justice of Supreme court, N.V. Ramana to keep all pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to the charge framed under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code on hold, which deals with the offence of sedition, till the central government completes the promised exercise to reconsider and re-examine the provision. We further demand that the Supreme Court should evaluate the constitutional validity of the section 124A of the Indian Penal Code and completely repeal the draconian law.

Kirity Roy

Secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM)

12th May, 2022

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