Monday, March 7, 2016

Is it time to repeal the Sedition law?

The first Indian to be charged with 124(A), draconian Sedition law was Jogendra Chandra Bose in 1891.

Section 124A is “the prince among the political sections of Indian Penal Code (IPC), designated to suppress the liberty of the Citizens”, was said by Gandhi in his written Statement before a British Judge, when he was charged with “Sedition” by British regime.

 “Take again Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code,” Jawaharlal Nehru said during a parliamentary debate centred around freedom of speech in 1951. “Now as far as I am concerned that particular Section is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place…in any body of laws that we might pass. The sooner we get rid of it the better.”

Still this particular law prevailed. Neither it was taken out nor toned down. When Mahatma Gandhi was charged with 124(A) in 1922, he pleaded guilty. Now the times have changed. Rules of the game have changed. 
The British have gone and instead we have the black sahibs who continue to misuse this black law.

India has much reason to cheer: it shares sedition law with Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Iran. 
Any why should it not? 
The mentality of the Taliban in these Muslim countries is very similar to the Taliban which is now ruling at the centre.

Over the years, several freedom fighters have been charged with sedition. 
Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a leading advocate of Indian self-rule, was charged with sedition on two occasions. In 1897, he was charged for speeches that allegedly incited violence and resulted in the killings of two British officers. Mr. Tilak was convicted but got bail in 1898. In another incident in 1909, he was prosecuted for sedition for his newspaper writings.  He maintained he was innocent but was convicted and sent to jail for six years.

Mahatma Gandhi, India’s most famous freedom fighter, was jailed for six years on sedition charges because of the articles he wrote for a weekly journal, ‘Young India’, that challenged the British government and asked Indians to stop serving it. However, Mr. Gandhi did not oppose the verdict, saying it was a “privilege” to be charged with sedition. Mr. Gandhi said people should be free to express their disaffection toward the government so long as they aren’t inciting violence.

Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first prime minister after Independence from Britain, was one of the fiercest critics of the law. During a parliamentary debate on free speech in 1951, he said the sedition law “is highly objectionable and obnoxious…the sooner we get rid of it the better,” according to a summary of the debate in the Hindu newspaper. However, even he did not repeal it. A true politician, not practicing what he preached.

In 1962, one Kedarnath Singh Kedar Nath Singh made the following speech, praising the Congress:"To-day the dogs of the C.I.D are loitering round Barauni. Many official dogs are sitting even in this meeting. The people of India drove out the Britishers from this country and elected these Congress goondas to the gaddi and seated them on it. To-day these Congress goondas are sitting on the gaddi due to mistake of the people. When we drove out the Britishers, we shall strike and turn out these Congress goondas as well".

He was charged with Sedition and the case went through various courts until it was taken up by the Supreme Court.In the case of Kedar Nath Singh vs the State of Bihar, the Supreme Court decided on the scope of Section 124A and narrowed its ambit; holding only those matters that had the intention or tendency to incite public disorder or violence would be made penal by the section. The court rejected the interpretations of early cases and that of the Privy Council in 1944, which brought far more acts within the section and made it easy for the colonial government to class any criticism of the State seditious. The Supreme Court endorsed stricter interpretation given to the section by the Federal Court in 1942.

May 14, 2007 to May 25, 2009 -NDA in Chattisgarh and UPA at centre
Binayak Sen, a reputed doctor in Chattisgarh who helped the poor and needy was kept under arrest on false charges of sedition.
Dec 24, 2010, he was again arrested after he was convicted under got up charges.
On 15 April 2011, the Supreme Court of India had granted bail to Dr. Binayak Sen, after questioning the sedition charge against him and adding that "the question of passing letters or documents does not arise." However the apex court said it was giving no reason for granting bail to 61-year-old Sen and left it to the satisfaction of the trial court concerned to impose the conditions for his release on bail. 

Media reports said that no evidence of sedition had been produced against the accused by the Chhattisgarh Government. According to The Hindu, one of the two judges told the senior state counsel ""We are a democratic country. He may be a sympathizer. That does not make him guilty of sedition." Drawing an analogy, he asked Mr. Lalit: “if Mahatma Gandhi's autobiography is found in somebody's place, is he a Gandhian? No case of sedition is made out on the basis of materials in possession unless you show that he was actively helping or harboring them [Maoists]."

Apr 14, 2012 - W. Bengal - TMC
Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra  was arrested under several sections of IPC and IT Act (not sedition) for allegedly circulating a cartoon derogatory to Mamata Banerjee. The above were the ostensible reasons but actually it was because he prevented TMC goons from capturing land in the housing estate. A ‘silent’ rally staged by the residents of New Garia Development Cooperative Society in their compound,against the arrest.Scores of artistes,activists and intellectuals,who had supported Mamata Banerjee in her quest to defeat the Marxists a year ago, marched on the streets of Kolkata warning the Chief Minister of the consequences of slipping into “the CPM’s shoes”.
Neighbours of Jadavpur University professor Ambikesh Mahapatra alleged that the police had distorted or falsified their statements to implicate him in the ‘Dushtu Lok Vanish’ cartoon email case that agitated West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee and led to the professor’s arrest.

Sep 10, 2012 - UPA Government
The Mumbai police arrested Mr Trivedi, a member of the India Against Corruption or IAC, on Saturday based on a private complaint filed by a lawyer in December last year that he had put up banners mocking the Indian Constitution during an Anna Hazare rally in Mumbai. He has also been charged with posting seditious and obscene content on his website, which has been blocked. Cartoons like one, where the activist has altered the three-lion national emblem to wolves, in a satirical depiction to highlight corruption have attracted the sedition charge. Mr Trivedi has been remanded in police custody till September 16.

Nov 19, 2012 - UPA Government
Two girls were arrested (not sedition) over their Facebook post questioning the shutdown in the city for Shiv Sena patriarch Bal Thackeray's funeral with the comment also leading to an attack on the clinic of an uncle of one of them by Sena activists. Dhada was arrested after she posted comments on the social networking site opposing the shutdown in Mumbai. Renu was arrested for posting a "like"
The arrests sparked an outrage with Press Council of India chief Markandey Katju on Monday demanding "immediate" action against police personnel involved. 
Congress which was the ruling party in Maharashtra, said a police case against the girls was "unfortunate" and hoped Maharashtra government would take remedial measures.
The two girls--Shaheen Dhada and Renu--were sent to 14-day judicial custody by a court before which they were produced on Monday but were granted bail within hours after they furnished personal bonds, police said.

Mar 14, 2014 - Samajwadi Party
The action of the Meerut police in booking a group of students from Jammu and Kashmir on a charge of sedition beats all previous instances of the misuse of the penal provision. The ostensible ‘crime’ committed by the students seems to be that they cheered for the Pakistan cricket team during a closely fought one-day match against India and celebrated Pakistan’s victory. The charge of sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code had been dropped, but only after the strong outrage evoked by this irrational act. Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah appealed to his counterpart in Uttar Pradesh, Akhilesh Yadav, and described the invocation of grave offences unacceptably harsh.

Sept 25, 2014 - Tamil Nadu - AIADMK
The Human Rights Watch (HRW) has strongly opposed “continued efforts” by government authorities in India to use the sedition law against activists and protesters. While the latest incident relates to immigration officials on September 16, 2014 preventing environmental activist SP Udayakumar from traveling out of the country because of sedition cases filed against him for leading protests at the Kudankulam nuclear power plant in Tamil Nadu, there is enough evidence why Parliament should act quickly to repeal the colonial-era sedition law, repeatedly misused to harass activists and protesters, it said.The Tamil Nadu government filed FIR by naming a few known person and 2500 unknown persons and then harassed anyone and everyone under the unknown categories.

Nov, 3, 2015 - Tamil Nadu - AIADMK
Once again the law of sedition has been misused, this time in Tamil Nadu. A folk singer associated with a radical leftist group has been charged with sedition and committing an act with an intent to cause a riot. His offence: disseminating two songs pillorying Chief Minister Jayalalithaa and her government for its policy of retailing liquor. There is nothing in the compositions that even remotely threatens the state or established government; neither is there anything that encourages violence, beyond calling for the closure of state-run liquor outlets as part of a campaign against government policy.

Feb 23, 2016 - NDA government
Kanhaiyya Kumar, young student leader from JNU Delhi, hailing from a poor family in Bihar is the latest victim of the charge of sedition. News reports suggest that the police has no record to show that he shouted any anti-national slogans. Yet he was arrested and put behind the bars. During the past two years or more intellectuals, artists and social activists have been mindlessly charged with sedition for saying things the establishment is not in favour of. Kanhaiyya’s arrest has now triggered a public debate on this much misused law

Feb 29, 2016 - NDA government
Opposition leaders were added on Sunday to the list of those booked for sedition in connection with the JNU row, with the Saroornagar Police Station under the Cyberabad police registering cases against Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi, CPI MP D Raja, CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury, JD(U) MP K C Tyagi, and Congress leaders Ajay Maken and Anand Sharma, apart from JNU students Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid.

Which countries have withdrawn the Sedition?

The New Zealand government announced on 7 May 2007 that the sedition law would be repealed. 
The Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Act 2007 was passed on 24 October 2007, and entered into force on 1 January 2008.

U.K :Sedition and seditious libel (as common law offences) were abolished by section 73 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (with effect on 12 January 2010). 
Sedition by an alien is still an offence under section 3 of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919.

Scotland: Section 51 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 abolished the common law offences of sedition and leasing-making with effect from 28 March 2011.

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