The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to examine the constitutional validity of the sedition law, Bar and Bench reported. This comes less than three months after the court had dismissed a similar plea by three lawyers challenging the provision.
A three-judge Bench of Justices UU Lalit, Indira Banerjee and KM Joseph issued notice to the central government on a plea by two journalists – Kishorechandra Wangkhemcha from Manipur and Kanhaiya Lal Shukla from Chhattisgarh – challenging Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code that penalises sedition.
The petitioners said they were charged with sedition for questioning the state governments and the Centre, and for certain comments and cartoons they shared on social media platforms. They contended that the provision infringes upon the fundamental right of freedom of speech and expression, guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.
The petitioners argued that the law has been frequently misused since 1962, when it was first introduced. And while “abuse of a law” in itself does not bear on the validity of that law, it does point to “the vagueness and uncertainty” of the provisions, they said.
“Tendency and intention have been so widely interpreted and employed in such a discretionary manner that those merely exercising their democratic rights have faced penal sanction under the section,” the petitioners said.
Additionally, the sedition law is outdated and serves no purpose in today’s society, the plea argued. Referring to the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold its validity in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case in 1962, the petitioners said that while the court may have been correct in its finding nearly six decades ago, the law no longer passes constitutional muster today.
In the Kedra Nath judgement, the Supreme Court had held that Section 124A was constitutional since it imposed a reasonable restriction on Article 19(1)(a).
The plea submitted that in 1962 there may have been a need to use Section 124A as a means to prevent the public violence and public disorder that fell short of waging war against the state. “Section 124-A, was, at the time a necessary tool in crime control,” it added. “But that is not the case in 2021.”
Besides, sections on sedition have been repealed in post-colonial democratic jurisdictions around the world, the plea added.
“The United Kingdom, the author of sedition laws in India and globally, has recently repealed the offence of sedition in its own jurisdiction in 2009,” it said. “New Zealand and Ghana have already passed legislation repealing sedition, while the Law Commissions of Canada, Ireland and Australia have recommended repeal to their respective parliaments. In both Uganda and Nigeria sedition has been declared unconstitutional.”
The petition also pointed to India’s obligations under International Law, and said the country was bound by the United Nations International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, or ICCPR.
The ICCPR recognises the inherent dignity of each individual and undertakes to promote conditions within states to allow the enjoyment of civil and political rights. Countries that have ratified the Covenant are obligated “to protect and preserve basic human rights… [and] “compel[led] to take administrative, judicial, and legislative measures in order to protect the rights enshrined in the treaty and to provide an effective remedy”.