Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

A national consensus on removal of sedition law is called for

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Not much

Mains level : Paper 2- Section 124-A issue

Is the government entitled to the love and affection of the citizens? Answer to this question lies in the Kedar Nath judgment recently invoked by the Supreme Court in a case against a journalist. The article deals with this issue.

About the Kedar Nath judgement

  • A two-judge bench of the Supreme Court observed that every journalist is entitled to the protection under the Kedar Nath judgment (1962) on the petition filed by journalist Vinod Dua.
  • The court entertained Dua’s writ petition under Article 32.
  • In the Kedar Nath judgement, the apex court had held that a citizen has the right to say or write whatever he likes about the government or its measures by way of criticism so long as he does not incite people to violence against the government or with the intention of creating public disorder.
  • Section 124A read along with explanations is not attracted without such an allusion to violence. 

Increasing use of the sedition law

  • NCRB data shows that between 2016 to 2019, there has been a whopping 160 per cent increase in the filing of sedition charges with a conviction rate of just 3.3 per cent.
  • Of the 96 people charged in 2019, only two could be convicted.
  • A number of CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protesters are facing sedition charges.

Background of Section 124-A

  • Section 124-A was not a part of the original Indian Penal Code drafted by Lord Macaulay and treason was confined just to levying war.
  • It was inserted in 1870 in response to the Wahabi movement that had asked Muslims to initiate jihad against the colonial regime.
  • It was argued that Wahabis are going from village to village and preaching that it was the sacred religious duty of Muslims to wage a war against British rule.

Way forward

  • In 2018, the Law Commission had recommended that the sedition law should not be used to curb free speech.
  •  Let the criminal law revision committee working under the Ministry of Home Affairs make the bold recommendation of dropping the draconian law.
  • A political consensus needs to be forged on this issue.

Conclusion

No government, as Mahatma Gandhi told Judge R S Broomfield, has a right to love and affection and people in a free country committed to the liberty of thought and freedom of expression should not be criminally punished for expressing their opinion about the government.

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