The law on sedition, one of several holdovers of colonial times, is among the most handy instruments for controlling the citizenry. On Saturday, a petition filed by Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Shireen Mazari seeking the annulment of Pakistan Penal Code’s Section 124-A, which pertains to sedition, was dismissed by the Islamabad High Court for being non-maintainable. Like most laws designed not for the ends of justice but as a tool to suppress dissent, this one is also phrased in extremely broad language, allowing the authorities considerable leeway when they do decide to detain someone under its provisions. Given that life imprisonment is the maximum punishment stipulated for sedition, that makes it a formidable weapon with which to beat down today’s recalcitrant ‘natives’. Fortunately, the courts have taken a lenient view and anyone being prosecuted under the section has been acquitted at some point.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf leader Shahbaz Gill is among the latest who have found themselves charged with sedition, after a television interview in which he uttered language that, in the words of Interior Minister Rana Sanaullah, was intended “to create rifts” within the military’s ranks. Mr Gill was granted bail after more than a month in custody. Earlier, during the PTI government, an FIR was registered against several Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leaders, including Nawaz Sharif, for sedition. And now sedition allegations are flying thick and fast. The PTI’s provincial government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa last month announced it was filing FIRs against several Pakistan Democratic Movement leaders – apparently in retaliation against Mr Gill’s travails. A sedition law has no place in a democracy, and violates several fundamental rights including freedom of expression. Moreover, international law holds that even trenchant criticism of the government and its institutions is protected. Indeed, Gandhi wore the charge of sedition brought against him in 1922 like a badge of honour, describing the law as “perhaps the prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of a citizen”. The sooner it is removed from the statute books, the better.

This article first appeared in Dawn.