Criticism of Political Matters is Not Sedition: Lakshadweep Filmmaker Moves Kerala HC

An FIR was registered against Aisha Sultana based on a complaint by the BJP’s Lakshadweep chief, who alleged that she spread false news during a TV debate.

New Delhi: Lakshadweep-based filmmaker Aisha Sultana has moved the Kerala high court seeking anticipatory bail in the case registered against her, saying criticism of political matters does not constitute sedition.

According to LiveLaw, she is seeking pre-arrest bail in the FIR registered by the Kavaratti police station under Section 124A (sedition) and 153B (acts against national integration) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The FIR against Sultana was registered on the basis of a complaint by C. Abdul Khader Haji, the BJP’s Lakshadweep chief, who alleged that she spread false news during a TV debate. The filmmaker had called the union territory’s administrator Praful Khoda Patel a ‘bioweapon’, criticising his decision to do away with mandatory quarantine. This decision, she said, is responsible for the surge of COVID-19 cases in Lakshadweep.

She filed the bail application after being served a notice asking her to appear at the Kavaratii police headquarters to join the investigation.

The high court adjourned the hearing to Thursday and sought the Kavaratti police’s response.

According to LiveLaw, the bail plea says Sultana made the ‘bioweapon’ remark as a criticism of the administration’s move to relax the COVID-19 protocol. “Lakshadweep is seeing an exponential rise in COVID-19 cases due to the relaxations in the quarantine protocol, and it is in this context that the alleged remarks were made,” the plea says.

The application also says that criticism of political issues does not constitute the offence of sedition under Section 124A IPC, referring to the Supreme Court’s Kedar Nath Singh judgment. The top court had defined the limits of sedition in the case, saying mere criticism of government cannot be considered sedition if there is no incitement to violence.

The plea also refers to the recent Vinod Dua judgment, according to LiveLaw. Granting bail to the journalist, the Supreme Court had said, “A citizen has a right to criticise or comment upon the measures undertaken by the government and its functionaries, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the government or with the intention of creating public disorder.”

The plea says there is no case to be made that Sultana’s statement has created disaffection towards the government or that it sparked violence.

“It is submitted that the applicant had only intended to say that it was due to the apathetic approach and reforms of the new administrator that serious threat is being caused to the lives of the people of the Island and had absolutely no intention of exciting disaffection towards the government,” the plea says, according to LiveLaw.

The plea also says that after realising that the remarks had sparked off a controversy, Sultana issued an explanation on social media, saying she never had any intention to “excite disaffection or hatred towards the government” and offered an apology.

The offences under section 153B of the IPC will also not stand against the applicant, as her statement is not “prejudicial to national integration” nor do they cause disharmony or feelings of enmity, the plea says, according to LiveLaw.

The case against Sultana and Patel’s controversial land reforms in the union territory have been criticised by different quarters, including by BJP workers. On Saturday, 15 Lakshadweep BJP leaders and party workers submitted their resignations to protest the sedition case against Sultana.

In a letter, they said that the BJP is “fully aware of how the present administrator [Praful Khoda] Patel’s actions are anti-people, anti-democracy and causing extreme suffering among people.”

On Monday, Patel’s arrival on the island was marked as a ‘black day’ by protesters, which was joined by political parties and organisations.