New Delhi: The Supreme Court said on March 3 that it is “not seditious to have views different from the government.”
The apex court was hearing a Public Interest Litigation – which it eventually dismissed – filed against former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Farooq Abdullah for his remarks on the Centre’s move to read down Article 370, LiveLaw has reported.
The plea by Rajat Sharma and Neh Srivastava had said that Abdullah had commented on “restoring Article 370” with “help of China.”
In an interview with The Wire as well, Abdullah had said that the Kashmiri people do not feel and do not want to be Indian and would rather be ruled by the Chinese.
This, the petitioners held, “clearly amount to seditious act and therefore he is liable to be punished under section 124-A of the India Penal Code (sic).”
A bench of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul and Hemant Gupta dismissed the plea and imposed a fine of Rs 50,000 on the petitioners, noting that they had failed to substantiate the allegations.
According to LiveLaw, the petitioners reportedly also relied on a statement made by BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra, where he said “that people in Jammu and Kashmir do not feel that they are Indians,” to claim that Abdullah was misleading people in Jammu and Kashmir “to join China”.
The petition also asked for Abdullah’s removal as member of parliament. He is the Srinagar MP in the Lok Sabha.
The Supreme Court’s observation is significant considering the spate of sedition cases slapped against activists and journalists recently.
Climate activist Disha Ravi was held on February 15 for sedition because she edited a toolkit that had resources on how to support farmers protesting against the agriculture laws.
Granting her bail, Additional Sessions Judge Dharmender Rana, had said, “The offence of sedition cannot be invoked to minister to the wounded vanity of the governments.”
A number of journalists who had communicated that a protester, Navreet Singh, had died on Republic Day because he was shot by Delhi Police – something the man’s grandfather claims to be the case – were also booked under sedition charges.
In an interview to Karan Thapar, retired Supreme Court judge, Justice Deepak Gupta, had said Section 124a is used by governments to create fear in the citizenry to prevent or throttle dissent. He said the law is widely misused and, worse, cases of its misuse are increasing “exponentially”.