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Being Vakil Explained: What is Sedition Law?

What is #sedition #law? What are its challenges and legal provisions? we explain.

The #SupremeCourt on Wednesday directed that the Centre and States to suspend all pending trials, appeals, and proceedings with respect to #Section124A of the Indian Penal Code (#IPC), which deals with the provisions of #Sedition. The Central Government is reconsidering and re-examining the provisions of the said Section.

In the meantime, let's see what is a #Sedition Law?

Section 124A of Indian Penal Code defines #Sedition Law as:

124A. Sedition.—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.

The essential ingredients of Sedition are:

  1. there should be words, signs, visible representation or otherwise.

  2. brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt.

  3. excite or dissatisfaction, towards the Government established by law.

The provision also contains three explanations:

  1. The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity;

  2. Comments expressing disapprobation of the meas­ures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section;

  3. Comments expressing disapprobation of the admin­istrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

History of Sedition Law #IPC 124A:

Legal Challenges

In the case of Kedar Nath verdict (1962 AIR 955, 1962 SCR Supl. (2) 769) A five-judge Constitution bench overruled the earlier rulings of the High Court and upheld the Constitutional validity of IPC Section 124A. The court held that unless accompanied by an incitement or call for violence, criticism of the government cannot be labelled sedition. The ruling restricted sedition only insofar as seditious speech tended to incite “public disorder”- a phrase Section 124A itself does not contain but was read into it by the court.

The court also issued seven “guidelines”, underlining when critical speech cannot be qualified as sedition.

In its guidelines 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 and even the Supreme Court, have underlined the rampant misuse of the sedition law. The Kedar Nath guidelines and a textual deviation in law puts the onus on the police who register a case to distinguish between legitimate speech from seditious speech.

Just last year, in Vinod Dua v Union of India, the Supreme Court quashed FIRs with charges of sedition against the journalist for criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis and cautioned against unlawful application of the provision.

As law evolves with time and circumstances prevailing in the country, there may transpire preponderate disparities between differing provisions of the acts enacted by the legislature. Article 19(1)(a) induces freedom of speech and expression to the people and section 124-A IPC is contemplated as conflicting the freedom that Article 19 seeks to confer. Not only section 124-A is sighted at speech and expression of denizens that are concentrated in engendering detest among the public, it has a wider ambit. Maneuvers of individuals that would result in waging war against the state, Collecting arms for the purpose of waging war,

Assaulting the president or governor would constitute sedition. Stimulation of religious insults is an integrant of sedition. In a diversified country like India, the existence of sedition laws is incumbent to obviate any form of unrest in communal. The exigency for sedition laws is imperative to obliterate anti-national and terrorist elements, wherein this may cause unrest in communal.

For Article 19 and section 124-A to administer in a harmonious manner, the inference and applicability of 124-A have to be obliterated which would also corroborate the communal to employ their freedom endowed under Article 19 without ambiguity. In Ram Nandan v. State of U.P.,[9]

Constitutionality of 124-A was held to be ultra vires Article 19(1) as the said proviso was identified to be unreasonable failing to be classified under reasonable restrictions as bestowed upon Article 19(2). As a result, the Allahabad High Court held 124-A to be unconstitutional and ultra vires Article 19(1) of the constitution. This ruling of the High court identified and resulted in the infliction of conflict between Article 19(1) and Section 124-A of IPC.

The scope of applicability of sedition laws has been bounded by the Supreme Court in the case of Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar.[10] Incitement of Violence was regarded as an imperative ingredient for the actions of individuals through their speech and expression to constitute sedition. As a result, S.C. constitutionalised 124-A by including it under Reasonable Restrictions endowed under Article 19(2).

The court’s intervention is crucial because in case it strikes down the provision, it will have to overrule the Kedar Nath ruling and uphold the earlier rulings that were liberal on free speech. However, if the government decides to review the law, either by diluting the language or repealing it, it could still bring back the provision in a different form.

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