It is incongruous for a liberal and free democratic country to have a sedition law that fights its own citizens. In fact, criticism of the government of the day is an essence of democracy and should not be viewed as anti-national activity. The Supreme Court’s order quashing the sedition case against senior journalist Vinod Dua is a welcome development and should set the record straight on the futility of invoking a draconian British era law. The FIR was filed by a local BJP leader in Shimla over his YouTube show that is critical of the NDA government on multiple issues. Every citizen is entitled to his or her opinions and criticise the governments so long as there is no incitement to violence. As India approaches the 75th Independence Day, it is appropriate that the apex court rejected in no uncertain terms the tendency to equate sedition with the democratic right of citizens to express dissent without being labelled enemies of the State. It is time a national consensus was built in favour of scrapping the sedition law as it is anathema to democracy. In a disturbing trend over the last few years, several governments, including the ones ruled by non-BJP parties, have routinely invoked Section 124-A that penalises sedition. A number of anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protesters too are facing sedition charges. The National Crime Records Bureau data shows that between 2016 and 2019, there has been a 160% increase in the filing of sedition charges with a conviction rate of just 3.3% while only two persons could be convicted out of 93 people charged in 2019.
The misuse of sedition law has destroyed many lives. Formulated during the British rule to suppress the freedom struggle, it is now being widely misused against dissenters. It is a welcome development that the SC has decided to examine the archaic Section 124A of the IPC in the context of media freedom. Way back in 1962, the apex court had ruled that “citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government…” Many countries, including the UK and Australia, have abolished the sedition law. It’s time for India to follow suit. There is already a robust legal architecture in place to deal with those trying to incite violence or threaten the integrity of the nation. In 2018, the Law Commission had recommended that sedition law should not be used to curb free speech. Creating a climate for free expression of thoughts and ideas without fear of criminal prosecution is essential for the growth of any civilisation. It is all the more important for democracies to survive.
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