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PM/Center wants to re-consider sedition law to respect human rights

IndiaPM/Center wants to re-consider sedition law to respect human rights

The Central government took a U-turn on Monday by telling the Supreme Court that it has decided to re-examine the provisions of sedition laws.

The Center Took A U-Turn

On Saturday, the Center had defended the penal law on sedition laws before the apex court and said that the 1962 verdict of a Constitution bench upholding the law’s validity was “long-standing, settled”, had stood the test of time, needed no reference to a larger bench, and that instances of its abuse cannot be a justification for its reconsideration.

However, on Monday, the Center took a big U-turn surprising everyone when it told the Supreme Court that it has decided to re-examine and reconsider provisions of sedition laws in the country and has also requested the apex court not to take up the sedition case till the matter is examined by the government.

The government reportedly submitted an affidavit to the Supreme Court in connection with a slew of petitions filed by journalists, activists, and political leaders challenging the constitutional validity of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code which criminalizes sedition.

Center submitted in the affidavit that there exist divergent views on the issue in the public domain by jurists, academicians, intellectuals, and citizens in the country.

The affidavit further reads that the government intends to work towards shedding the ‘colonial baggage’ at a time when the nation is gearing up to mark 75 years of Independence.

The affidavit said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been cognisant of diverse views expressed on the subject and has also periodically, on various forums, expressed his unequivocal opinions in favor of protection of civil liberties, respect of human rights, and giving meaning to constitutionally cherished freedoms by the people of the country.

In an affidavit, the home ministry said this exercise can only be carried out before the competent forum and urged the court to defer the hearing on the constitutional validity of Section 124A till it is carried out.

The Centre on Monday told the Supreme Court that it is cognisant of the various views being expressed on the question of sedition and “has decided to re-examine and re-consider the provisions of Section 124A (which deals with the offense of sedition)”.

In a brief affidavit filed in the court, the Ministry of Home Affairs said this exercise can only be carried out before the competent forum and urged the court which is hearing petitions challenging the constitutional validity of the provision to defer the same till the exercise is carried out.

In view of this, the government “respectfully submitted that this Hon’ble court may not invest time in examining the validity of Section 124A once again and be pleased to await the exercise of reconsideration to be undertaken by the government of India before an appropriate forum where such reconsideration is constitutionally permitted”.

Supreme Court’s Concerns in 2021

The Supreme Court last year in 2021 expressed concern at the frequency with which sedition charges were slapped against print and electronic media for publishing views critical of the government and said it would decide the ambit of the colonial-era provision in the Indian Penal Code keeping in view the media’s right to free speech and expression.

“We are of the view that the ambit and parameters of the provisions of Sections 124A, 153A, and 505 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, would require interpretation, particularly in the context of the right of the electronic and print media to communicate news and information, even those that may be critical of the prevailing regime in any part of the nation,” a bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud, L N Rao and SR Bhat said.

Colonial Era Sedition Law Continued to be Misused Politically after 75 years of Independence.

The provision for sedition laws has been under severe public scrutiny recently for its alleged misuse to settle political scores by various governments which had led the CJI to ask if the colonial-era law, which was used to persecute freedom fighters, was still needed after 75 years of Independence.

Worried over the alleged misuse of the penal law on sedition, the top court in July last year had asked the Center why it was not repealing the provision used by the British to silence people like Mahatma Gandhi to suppress the freedom movement.

Agreeing to examine the pleas filed by the Editors Guild of India and former Major General SG Vombatkere, the apex court had said its main concern was the “misuse of law” leading to the rising number of cases.

The sedition law is a non-bailable law that makes any speech or expression that brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government established by law in India a criminal offense punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.

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