WHY IN NEWS :
On 31st May 2021, the Supreme Court said “It is time to define the limits of sedition”.
The apex court’s observations came while hearing a case in which the Andhra Pradesh Government has booked two Telugu news channels under section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).
What is Sedition?
- Sedition is the crime of revolting or inciting revolt against government.
About Section 124A :
- Section 124A of the India Penal Code (IPC) lays down the punishment for sedition.
- The Indian Penal Code was enacted in 1860, under British Rule.
- Section 124 A forms part of Chapter VI of the code which deals with offences against the state.
- Section 124 of IPC is a Non-Bailable offence.
Ironically, a sedition law was being used by the British colonial government to suppress the nationalists& their movement. But this draconian law now-a-days is being used to suppress the right to dissent, which was the philosophy of Mahatma Gandhi.
The Honourable Supreme Court has slapped charges by Andhra Government against two Telugu news channel namely TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi for alleged sedition in showing offensive speeches of two leaders.
OVERVIEW OF SEDITION LAW
- At present, the sedition law is being used indiscriminatly against critics, journalists, social media users, citizens for airing their grievances about the government’s COVID-19 management.
- To curb this menace of draconian law, the Supreme Court while hearing the Petitioner’s arguments in recent Andhra cases, ordered to restrain arrest and prosecution against citizens for ventilating grievances with respect to COVID-19 issues as government’s action is a gross violation of the earlier Supreme Court order dated on 30 April 2021.
OBSERVATIONS RELATED TO SECTION 124 A BY SUPREME COURT
- In Kedar Nath Singh V State of Bihar, SC held the constitutionality of sedition under section 124A, but limited its application to “acts involving intention or tendency to create disorder of law and order or incitement to violence.
- In 1995, the Supreme Court, in Balwant Singh V State of Punjab observed that mere sloganeering which evoked to public response didi not amount to sedition.
- On 31st May 2021 S.C. while hearing the recent case of TV channels (that more contempt pleas in SC against Andhra Pradesh govt) observed it is time we define the limits of sedition. Provisions of 124A (Sedition) and 153 (promoting enmity between classes) of the IPC require interpretation on the issue of the rights of the press and free speech.
RELEVANCY OF SEDITION LAW
- Presence of sedition law safeguards the ‘sovereignty of the state of rendering a deterrent to indulge in actions against the threatening the stability of state/country.
- It helps in combating anti-national secessionist and terrorist elements.
COMPARISON OF SEDITION LAW AT WORLD-LEVEL
- Canada - Sedition laws are independent of the laws that pertain to hate crime. They enjoy liberal freedom. Restriction of freedom of speech are rarely enforced after 20th century.
- Malaysia – It has not only the laws of sedition against govt but also takes within its purview & prohibitions on racial hate speech.
- New-Zealand : Seditions ceased to be a crime after introduction of the crimes (repeal of seditions offences) Amendment Bill in 2007.
- United Kingdom – However UK abolished sedition law in 2010 but sedition by an alien is an offences.
- South Korea : The Republic of Korea did away with its sedition law during democratic and legal reforms in the year 1988.
CONCERN OF SECTION 124A
- It is being misused as a tool to persecute political dissent.
- It is a constraint on the legitimate exercise of constitutionally guaranteed freedom of speech and expression (Article 19 of India constitution).
- Dissent, criticism of government, questioning politicians which are the fundamental and bedrock of the vibrant democracy have come to be treated as sedition by the police and government. It endangers the very idea of democracy.
Viewpoint of Law Commission of India
- In August 2018, Law Commission of India recommended to re-think or repeal of section 124A of IndianPenal Code that deals with sedition.
- It also suggested invoking section 124A to only criminalize acts committed with the intention to disruptpublic order with violence & illegal means.
- The time has come to repeal this draconian law as reiterated by several commissions& various judgements. But recently, the Supreme Court has clearly stated to rethink of its annulment. However section 124A is essential to protect national integrity but it should not be used as a tool to curb free speech & dissent.