Recently the Supreme Court has said, “it is necessary to define the limits of sedition.” This remark was made while dealing with writ petitions filed by two news channels seeking the dismissal of FIRs and contempt proceedings.
What is the matter?
Two Telugu news networks, TV5 and ABN Andhra Jyothi were charged with sedition by the Andhra government for airing offensive statements by two leaders. The petitioners said that the government’s conduct is in breach of an earlier SC ruling (April 30), which prohibits individuals from being arrested or prosecuted for airing concerns about Covid-19 issues.
The court has given the state government four weeks to respond to the channels’ pleas, which have been charged with several offences, including the penal offence of sedition. The general observations of the court on sedition are as follows: it’s time we define the limits of sedition. Sections of the Indian Penal Code: 124A (sedition) and 153 (promoting enmity between classes) require interpretation, particularly in relation to press and free speech rights.
During the second wave of the pandemic, the sedition law was used indiscriminately against critics, journalists, social media users, activists, and citizens for airing their grievances about the government’s COVID-19 management, or even for seeking assistance in obtaining medical access, equipment, drugs, and oxygen cylinders.
What is sedition?
Section 124A of the IPC states, “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 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.”
Need for a proper definition:
For far too long, the sedition legislation has been a source of contention. Governments are frequently chastised for utilising the law, Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, to silence vociferous critics of their policies. As a result, this Section is viewed as a limitation on people’s freedom of expression, and it falls short of Article 19’s limits on justifiable restrictions on freedom of speech. Since the colonial British authorities enacted the legislation in the 1860s, it has been the subject of heated controversy. Several prominent independence fighters, including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, were charged with sedition. It is the “prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the citizen’s liberty,” according to Mahatma Gandhi. Nehru had described it as “highly objectionable and obnoxious” which “should have no place in any body of laws that we might pass”. Nehru said, “The sooner we get rid of it the better.”
Relevant Supreme Court judgements:
The Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case (1962): While dealing with offences under Section 124A of the IPC, a five-judge Supreme Court constitutional bench had, in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case (1962), laid down some guiding principles. The court ruled that comments however strongly worded expressing disapprobation of the actions of the government without causing public disorder by acts of violence would not be penal. The Balwant Singh vs State of Punjab (1995) case: In this case, the Supreme Court had clarified that merely shouting slogans, Khalistan Zindabad, does not amount to sedition. Evidently, the sedition law is being both misunderstood and misused to muzzle dissent.
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