The Lahore High Court on Thursday struck down Pakistan’s colonial-era sedition law, saying that it is inconsistent with the country’s Constitution, Dawn reported.
Justice Shahid Karim annulled Section 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, which criminalises sedition, in response to a batch of petitions arguing that the law has been recklessly used in the country to stifle dissent.
The provision is similar to Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which the country’s Supreme Court had last year put on hold.
The offence of sedition, if proven in both countries, carried a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
One of the petitions against Pakistan’s sedition law said that it is a notorious tool for the suppression of “free speech and criticism in free and independent Pakistan”.
The petition added: “Every passing day, the intensity of registration of FIRs [first information reports] under this section is snowballing while the people of Pakistan have suffered a lot, as almost every criticism of government or state institutions has been treated as an offence under Section 124-A by law enforcement agencies.”
Pakistani lawyer Abuzar Salman Niazi on Thursday wrote on Twitter that the sedition law had been struck down for being unconstitutional as it violated Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to free speech. A detailed court verdict is yet to be released.
In 1954, Pakistani courts had warned the authorities that sedition law should be invoked only to “that degree of disaffection, hatred or contempt which induces people to refuse to recognise the government at all and leads them to unconstitutional methods”. However, in theory, many remain incarcerated in the country merely for criticising the actions of the government.
“Moreover, various prominent journalists, namely, Arshad Sharif, Khawar Ghumman, Adeel Raja and Sadaf Abdul Jabbar are facing prosecution on the basis of sedition charges,” the petition challenging the law said, according to Dawn. “Javed Hashmi was also sentenced to 23 years in prison on sedition charges.”
The petition also stated that most of the sedition cases were politically motivated and based on vague and ambiguous allegations.
In India too, critics of the sedition law had alleged that it was the law was prone to misuse by government authorities. In the past citizens have been charged with sedition for celebrating Pakistan’s cricket win over India, not standing up during the national anthem, sharing a cartoon, among other cases.
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