New Delhi: Journalists Patricia Mukhim and Anuradha Bhasin have become the latest to move Supreme Court challenging the constitutional validity of sedition law contending that the colonial-era penal provision was being used to intimidate, silence and punish scribes.
Mukhim is editor of The Shillong Times and Anuradha Bhasin is the owner of Kashmir Times. The two have said that Section 124-A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code will continue to “haunt and hinder” the right to free speech and the freedom of the press.
“The three-tier categorisation of the punishment for the offence of sedition, ranging from life imprisonment to fine simpliciter, without any legislative guidance for sentencing, amounts to granting unbridled discretion to judges, which is hit by the doctrine of arbitrariness and violates Article 14 (equality before law),” the plea said.
On July 16, an NGO filed a similar petition challenging the constitutional validity of sedition law on grounds that it is anachronistic and has lost all relevance in a free democracy like India.
The petition filed by People’s Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) said that sedition was a political crime, originally enacted to prevent political uprisings against the Crown and to control the British colonies.
A law of such “repressive” character, has no place in independent India, it said.
Former Union Minister Arun Shourie also moved the top court last week against the law. Shourie, in his petition, urged the court to declare the law as unconstitutional as it has come to be heavily abused with cases being filed against citizens for exercising their freedom of speech and expression.
The Section 124-A (sedition) under the IPC is non-bailable provision and it 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 offence punishable with a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
The apex court on July 15 agreed to examine the pleas filed by Editors Guild of India and former army officer Major-General (retired) S.G. Vombatkere challenging the constitutionality of the law.
The Supreme Court expressed concern over the misuse of the “colonial-era” penal law on sedition, questioning why the Union government had not struck it down.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N.V, Ramana asked, “This dispute about law is concerned, its colonial law, it was meant to suppress the freedom movement, the same law was used by British to silence Mahatma Gandhi, Tilak etc. Still is it necessary after 75 years of Independence?”