Sedition And Its Roots In Rudeness As An Offence
The Lahore High Court struck down the Pakistan Penal Code’s “sedition” offence on March 30. Inconveniently, around the same time in India, the police filed several complaints in Delhi and Ahmedabad and also detained several individuals, including the owners of the printing presses involved, for putting up anti-government (and notably anti-Modi) posters throughout the city.
Section 124A IPC
- Sedition is defined as an offence committed when “any person brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India” through spoken or written words, signs, visible representations, or other means.
- Disloyalty and all hostile emotions are included in disaffection. However, statements that do not incite or seek to incite hatred, contempt, or disaffection shall not be considered violations of this clause.
- This offence is not subject to bail. The range of penalties under Section 124A is three years to life in prison, with the option of an additional fine.
- An individual accused of violating this law is prohibited from working for the government.
- They are forced to live without their passports and are expected to regularly appear in court.
- When parliamentarians in 17th-century England believed that only positive opinions of the government should endure because negative opinions were harmful to the government and monarchy, sedition laws were passed.
- Thomas Macaulay, a British historian and politician, first drafted the statute in 1837; nevertheless, it was mysteriously left out when the Indian Penal Code (IPC) was adopted in 1860.
- James Stephen’s amendment to the Constitution, which saw the need for a separate section to address the offence, resulted in the addition of Section 124A in 1870.
Similarities between Indian and Pakistani sedition laws:
- India’s sedition laws, particularly Section 124A, are strikingly similar to those of Pakistan.
- While a challenge to Section 124A is still ongoing before the Indian Supreme Court, the Lahore High Court in Pakistan abolished the crime of sedition.
Sedition’s essential premise still holds:
- Sedition’s core offence may be under investigation, but its rationale hasn’t changed.
- Laws in both nations have various clauses that make it illegal to speak out against the establishment and the powerful.
Criminalizing speech based on social hierarchy:
- Speech-related offences disproportionately target people who oppose social and political authority or diverge from the mainstream narrative.
- Based on who speaks and to whom, speech is deemed punishable, reflecting ingrained hierarchical ties in society.
Relationship between law and social hierarchy:
- Law and social hierarchy are intertwined, as shown by how some utterances are declared defamatory while others are left unchecked.
- To maintain social and political structures, prosecutors frequently concentrate on material that questions authority.
Impact on free speech:
- The prosecution of speech-related offences has a chilling impact on both press freedom and free speech.
- Press freedom is endangered by the notion that it must defend the status quo, which also stifles opposing opinions.
Misuse of national security as a pretext:
- The use of “national security” as a pretext by the government to censor speech is common, but such assertions need to be supported by evidence.
- The rule of law is threatened and citizens’ legal rights are denied when national security is misused.
Importance of the Supreme Court judgment:
- Observations in the Media One case, in particular, is notable because it challenges the state’s restriction of critical ideas and discusses the logic behind sedition.
- It highlights the necessity of preventing a singular point of view and defending press freedom.
Continued engagement and reevaluation:
- The section ends by arguing that the significance of the judgement resides in its ongoing engagement with the sedition’s growing reasoning.
- To protect democratic values, there is a push to reexamine the connection between law, authority, and freedom of speech.