SC gives govt 2 weeks to reply to petitions against sedition law
The Supreme Court on Monday gave the Centre two weeks’ time to respond to a petition challenging the validity of the sedition law under which expressions of dissent or valid criticism of governments are being penalised as attempts to spread hatred, contempt or disaffection towards elected regimes at the central and state level.
The offence of sedition is punishable under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. In 1962, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of this law in Kedar Nath Yadav v State of Bihar.
On April 30 this year, the top court issued a notice to the Centre on a petition filed by two journalists Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla, working in Manipur and Chhattisgarh, who demanded a relook at the 1962 judgment in the light of blatant misuse of this law by governments to suppress criticism. The petitioners claimed that the said provision violated their freedom of speech and expression, a constitutionally guaranteed right under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution. The court had even sought the assistance of attorney general KK Venugopal in the matter.
On Monday, the bench of justices UU Lalit and Ajay Rastogi gave solicitor general Tushar Mehta two weeks’ time to file an affidavit on behalf of the Centre. Before the next date of hearing on July 27, the court allowed the attorney general to file his written submissions.
Meanwhile, three applications have also been filed in the matter by Foundation of Media Professionals, journalist Shashi Kumar and law professor Sanjay S Jain supporting the petition in challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A of the IPC. Senior advocate Arvind Datar appeared for the foundation while advocates Kaleeswaram Raj and Namit Saxena represented the other two. The foundation said, “The internet has not only completely revolutionised the modes of communication, but also equipped nation states to exercise control over the minutest of actions, thoughts and speech of their citizens.”
Shashi Kumar in his application stated that the “vague nature of the provision” allows Section 124A to be used as a “political weapon to create a chilling effect” on free speech. He cited sedition cases against anti-CAA protesters and farmers to highlight the misuse of the law. The third applicant showed how globally, the UK and New Zealand have repealed the sedition law while Australia replaced the term “sedition” with “urging violence offences” in 2010.
The original petition filed by the two journalists was argued by senior advocate Colin Gonsalves.It pointed out that the SC may have been right in 1962 to uphold Section 124A but the application of this provision in recent times has made it “undemocratic”.