Sedition Charges Used to Instill Fear & Crush Dissent: Petition in SC

Sedition charges, which involve the misuse and misapplication of section 124A of the Indian penal Code (IPC-sedition law/sections, by both Central and State governments, are leading to the persistent persecution of students, journalists and intellectuals involved in social activism. A petition, filed in the Supreme Court of India today, August 17, by anti-nuclear activist, Dr. S.P. Udayakumar (against whom such charges have been made and Common Cause, an organization of which advocate Prashant Bhushan is a founder) argues that these charges are framed with a view to instill fear and to scuttle dissent and are in complete violation of the scope of sedition as laid down by constitution bench judgment of Supreme Court in Kedar nath v State of Bihar [1962 Supp. (2) S.C.R. 769], which is the locus classicus on the interpretation of sedition. 

The issue is of immediate and particular relevance given the fact that several student leaders from the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) were slapped by with sedition charges by the Delhi police which is directly under the central government and more recently, the sedition charge on Amnesty India for organizing a debate on Kashmir in Karnataka.

The petition argues that as per the constitution bench judgment in Kedarnath, only those acts which involve incitement to violence or violence constitute a seditious act. In the various cases that have been filed in the recent years, the charges of sedition against the accused have failed to stand up to judicial scrutiny.

The petitioner is therefore seeking a strict compliance of the Constitutional Bench judgment of Supreme Court in Kedar Nath in which the scope of sedition as a penal offence was laid down and it was held that the gist of the offence of sedition is “incitement to violence” or the “tendency or the intention to create public disorder”. Thus, those actions which do not involve violence or tendency to create public disorder, such as organization of debates/discussions, drawing of cartoons, criticism of the government etc do not constitute the offence of sedition.

The petition can be read here.

The petition also prays for directions from the court for the issuance of an appropriate writ, order or direction making it compulsory for the concerned authority to produce a reasoned order from the Director General of Police (DGP) or the Commissioner of Police, as the case maybe, certifying that the “seditious act” either lead to the incitement of violence or had the tendency or the intention to create public disorder, before any FIR is field or any arrest is made on the charges of sedition against any individual. Similarly, there is a prayer for a review of all pending sedition cases and for criminal complaints for sedition made before a Judicial Magistrate with a view to curb the misuse and misapplication of sedition law. The petition will be heard in the next few days.



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