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Foundation Of Media Professionals Seeks Intervention In Plea Challenging Sedition Law Before Supreme Court

Akshita Saxena
13 July 2021 8:44 AM GMT
Foundation Of Media Professionals Seeks Intervention In Plea Challenging Sedition Law Before Supreme Court
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The Foundation of Media Professionals has moved an intervention application before the Supreme Court in the petition challenging constitutionality of the offence of sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.The main petition was heard yesterday by a bench comprising Justices UU Lalit and Ajay Rastogi and the matter has been adjourned to July 27 to enable the Central Government...

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The Foundation of Media Professionals has moved an intervention application before the Supreme Court in the petition challenging constitutionality of the offence of sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.

The main petition was heard yesterday by a bench comprising Justices UU Lalit and Ajay Rastogi and the matter has been adjourned to July 27 to enable the Central Government and the Attorney General to file their response.

Filed though Advocate Rahul Bhatia, the intervention application states that the law of sedition is a colonial dictate, that was devised to "crush the independence movement", and not out of democratic instincts.

"The tendency of the British to ensure complete allegiance and compliance of the Indian citizens not only in action but also in thought, is blatantly evident from the evolution of the law on sedition. It is relevant to note, however, that the Indian courts have largely crusaded against regarding every unpleasant word as 'actionable', championing the cause of the media," the plea states at the outset.

It adds,

"Section 124-A IPC casts such a wide net on the speech and writing of media professionals, that virtually any opinion on any subject would be covered by it, as any serious opinion against the governmental measures and actions, are presumed anti-government (or anti-national, to use the prevalent street slang) and seditious by the public officials.
In fact any valid criticism or opinion of any legislation, policy or measures taken by the Government is interpreted to mean 'disaffection towards the Government established by law' The term 'disaffection towards the Government established by law' is vague, ambiguous, is capable of being interpretated subjectively and is regularly misused as a tool to persecute political dissent."

Also Read: 'Section 124A Being Applied In A Politicised Fashion' : Journalist Sashi Kumar Moves Supreme Court Against Sedition Offence

The plea refers to a report released by Free Speech Collective entitled "Behind Bars- Arrest and Detention of Journalists in India" which reveals that 67 cases have been lodged against journalists in 2020 as opposed to 10 cases in 2010.

"The sharp increase in the number of cases demonstrate the rising censorship imposed upon the media professionals under the garb of sedition and similar offences under state statutes...in the global age of internet, where free flow of ideas has attained more significance than ever, it is pertinent that the unreasonable restriction of sedition be abolished, especially vis-à-vis the media professionals who are impeded in their jobs with arbitrary arrests and detainment," it is argued.

It is stated that insertion of Section 124A in the IPC by way of an amendment in the year 1870 was "conditioned on preserving freedom of speech and not to endanger it." However, the colonial era rulings focused on the term 'disaffection' as contained in the provision, explaining it to mean inter alia ill-will or dislike towards the government.

In the present context, it is asserted that in Independent India, Fundamental Rights guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution can only be restricted under the subject matters mentioned in Article 19(2).

These restrictions must (i) be reasonable; (ii) have a rational nexus with the limited objectives/grounds provided for in Article 19 (2), namely sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence.

However, it is pointed out that the law is often used as an "excuse" for public officials to harass media professionals and journalists, who often spend months in jail awaiting their trial to adjudge whether their actions are seditious or not.

"As one of the rare crimes, which do not require an ingredient of mens rea, the imposition of section 124-A IPC over journalists who are merely doing their jobs, is arbitrary, excessive and completely disproportionate," the plea states in this regard.

It is urged that the judgment in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, that upheld the law of sedition on a "pedantic approach" that citizens require some hand-holding to get used to the idea of a democratic nation needs to re-looked. It is stated that over the last sixty years,

"there has been a sharp rise in the literacy and awareness of the citizens of this country, and the fundamental rationale that forms the very basis of Kedar Nath Singh (supra) no longer exists, and therefore requires reimagination by this Hon'ble Court especially in light of the rise of youth activism, independent journalism, and progressing levels of education."

Reliance is placed on the case of Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, wherein while deliberating on the constitutionality of section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, the Supreme Court referred to the test of 'chilling effect'.

The pela also cites several Supreme Court judgments that purportedly "thwarted" the attempts to expand the scope of Article 19(2) by going beyond the restriction as envisaged under the said provision.

"Fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression is one of the most cherished Fundamental Rights as it guarantees the Media's right to free speech and expression in a democracy."

It is further mentioned that even the Constituent Assembly was unanimous in having the word 'sedition' deleted from the draft Constitution.

"Our community is in dire need of transparency in the government and open dialogue on issues, which is the only way to promote further growth and development and to ensure that our society does not fall back on old patterns of intolerance," the organisation asserts.


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