According to the Union Home Ministry data, a total of 326 cases were registered in the country under the draconian law on sedition between 2014 and 2019 in which just six persons were convicted.
Out of 326 cases, charge sheets were filed in 141 cases. The data of 2020 has not been compiled by the home ministry yet, PTI news agency quoted Home Ministry officials as saying.
2019 saw the highest number of 93 sedition cases registered in the country, followed by 70 in 2018, 51 in 2017, 47 in 2014, 35 in 2016 and 30 in 2015. While 40 charge sheets were filed in the country in 2019 under the sedition law, 38 were filed in 2018, 27 in 2017, 16 in 2016, 14 in 2014 and six in 2015.
Among the six convicted, two were sentenced in 2018 and one each in 2019, 2017, 2016 and 2014, PTI reports.
The highest number of cases were registered in Assam, 54 cases in six years. However, there has not been a single conviction in the state in any of these cases.
No sedition cases were filed in Meghalaya, Mizoram, Tripura, Sikkim, Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Lakshadweep, Puducherry, Chandigarh, Daman and Diu, Dadra and Nagar Haveli in the six years.
Jharkhand has registered 40 cases under sedition during the six years in which charge sheets were filed in 29 cases and trials were completed in 16 cases in which just one person has been convicted.
In the case of Haryana, 31 cases were registered under the controversial colonial-era penal law on sedition in which charge sheets were filed in 19 cases and trials were completed in six cases in which just one person has been convicted.
According to PTI report which quotes Union Home Ministry data, Bihar, Jammu and Kashmir and Kerala have registered 25 cases each. While Bihar and Kerala could not file a charge sheet in any of the cases, Jammu and Kashmir filed a charge sheet in three cases. However, no one was convicted in any of the three states between 2014 and 2019.
In Karnataka, 22 sedition cases were filed in which charge sheets were filed in 17 cases, but the trial could be completed in just one case. However, no one was convicted in any case in the six years.
17 sedition cases were filed in Uttar Pradesh and eight in West Bengal. While charge sheets were filed in eight cases in UP and five cases in West Bengal, no one was convicted in the two states.
Four sedition cases were registered between 2014 and 2019 but no charge sheet has been filed in any case in the capital city Delhi.
One each sedition case was filed in three states — Maharashtra, Punjab and Uttarakhand.
This data comes at a time, the country’s apex court called the sedition law “colonial”, and asked the Union government if it is “still necessary after 75 years of Independence”.
“Misuse, but no accountability”
On 15 July, while posing a question to the Attorney General of India KK Venugopal during the hearing on a plea challenging the validity of the sedition law, the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana expressed alarm at the rampant misuse of sedition law in the country.
CJI NV Ramana on Thursday also expressed reservation at continuing the use of the provision (Section 124A of IPC), inserted during the colonial era in 1870, purportedly to curb dissent.
The top court was hearing a plea moved by SG Vombatkere, challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A of the IPC, which lays down the punishment for the offence of sedition. The CJI-led bench also issued a notice to the central government and tagged the plea with a similar pending petition filed by the Editors Guild of India.
“This dispute about law is concerned, its colonial law, it was meant to suppress the freedom movement, the same law was used by British to silence Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak etc. Still is it necessary after 75 years of independence?” the CJI observed.
According to CJI, the continuation of these type of laws after 73 years of independence is unfortunate. “
“The Government is taking out many laws, I don’t know why they are not looking into this” he said.
He went on to say: : “If we go see history of charging of this section, the enormous power of this section can be compared to a carpenter being given a saw to make an item, uses it to cut the entire forest instead of a tree. That’s the effect of this provision. Unfortunately, the executing agency and particularly the authorities misuse it. Take example of 66A which was struck down but people were arrested. There is misuse of these provisions, but there is no accountability!”
According to Justice Ramana, the powers under Section 124A are so vast that a police officer who wants to fix anybody for playing cards, gambling, etc. can also invoke Section 124 A.
He even told AG that the gravity of the situation is so grim that if some State or a particular party doesn’t want to hear a voice, they will use this law to implicate such groups of people.
Meanwhile, Attorney General KK Venugopal responded to CJI Ramana by stating that section 124A of IPC need not be struck down and the court may only set out guidelines so that it meets its legal purpose.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 which defines the offence of “sedition”, is a colonial-era relic. It was enacted by the British to repress India’s independence struggle.
Mahatma Gandhi, who was imprisoned under the law, called it “the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen.”
- What does it criminalise?
This law prohibits any signs, visible representations, or words, spoken or written, that can cause “hatred or contempt, or excite or attempt to excite disaffection” towards the government. However, according to the Indian Courts, an important criteria for any form of expression to be considered as ‘seditious’, is that the expression must involve incitement to imminent violence. Despite this important ruling, sedition has always been used to arrest journalists, activists and human rights defenders who simply express critical views.
- How long can a person be sentenced under sedition?
The punishment for the offence of sedition extends up to life imprisonment, and the charge is both non-bailable and cognizable.
- Why should Section 124A be repealed?
Along with UAPA, the sedition law is also excessively vague and broad, making it an easy tool to stifle dissent and debate. There is no good way to apply Section 124A. It does not comply with international human rights law. It violates the right to freedom of expression under the Indian Constitution. And it goes against India’s tradition of tolerance.
The charges of sedition also rarely result in conviction. Since 2016, only seven cases have led to conviction. The rest either resulted in discharge or acquittal demonstrating that sedition is primarily used to harass and intimidate those who speak truth to power.
Freedom of speech or expression, applies to ideas of all kinds, including those that may be deeply offensive to some. While international law protects free speech, there are instances where speech can legitimately restricted under the same law – such as when it violates the rights of others, or, advocates hatred and incites discrimination or violence.
However, any restrictions on freedom of expression must be provided by law, protect certain public interests or the rights of others and, be clearly necessary for that purpose. The rampant application of Section 124A by the police does not fulfil this criteria.