Being Vakil Explained: What is Sedition Law?

What is #sedition #law? What are its challenges and legal provisions? we explain.

The #SupremeCourt on Wednesday directed that the Centre and States to suspend all pending trials, appeals, and proceedings with respect to #Section124A of the Indian Penal Code (#IPC), which deals with the provisions of #Sedition. The Central Government is reconsidering and re-examining the provisions of the said Section.

In the meantime, let's see what is a #Sedition Law?

Section 124A of Indian Penal Code defines #Sedition Law as:

124A. Sedition.—Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government estab­lished by law in [India], shall be punished with[im­prisonment for life], to which fine may be added, or with impris­onment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

The essential ingredients of Sedition are:

  1. there should be words, signs, visible representation or otherwise.

  2. brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt.

  3. excite or dissatisfaction, towards the Government established by law.

The provision also contains three explanations:

  1. The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity;

  2. Comments expressing disapprobation of the meas­ures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section;

  3. Comments expressing disapprobation of the admin­istrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

History of Sedition Law #IPC 124A:

Legal Challenges

In the case of Kedar Nath verdict (1962 AIR 955, 1962 SCR Supl. (2) 769) A five-judge Constitution bench overruled the earlier rulings of the High Court and upheld the Constitutional validity of IPC Section 124A. The court held that unless accompanied by an incitement or call for violence, criticism of the government cannot be labelled sedition. The ruling restricted sedition only insofar as seditious speech tended to incite “public disorder”- a phrase Section 124A itself does not contain but was read into it by the court.

The court also issued seven “guidelines”, underlining when critical speech cannot be qualified as sedition.

In its guidelines on using the new, restrictive definition of sedition law, the court said not all speech with “disaffection”, “hatred,” or “contempt” against the state, but only speech that is likely to incite “public disorder” would qualify as sedition.

Successive reports of the Law Commission of India and even the Supreme Court, have underlined the rampant misuse of the sedition law. The Kedar Nath guidelines and a textual deviation in law puts the onus on the police who register a case to distinguish between legitimate speech from seditious speech.

Just last year, in Vinod Dua v Union of India, the Supreme Court quashed FIRs with charges of sedition against the journalist for criticising Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis and cautioned against unlawful application of the provision.

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