Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Should Sedition law be scrapped?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level : Freedom of Speech

Mains level : Kedarnath Singh Guidelines

The Supreme Court has quashed the case of sedition filed against a journalist in Himachal Pradesh for allegedly making remarks against PM and the government’s handling of the migrant crisis during the Covid-19 lockdown last year.

What is the story?

  • In a video, the journalist had criticized PM Modi and the Centre for the handling of the migrant crisis last year.
  • A sedition case was filed against him under Section 124A of the IPC which penalizes sedition as punishable with either imprisonment ranging from three years to a lifetime, a fine, or both.
  • He was charged for spreading misinformation or incorrect information and cause panic in the perception of the general public.

What has the court ruled?

  • The case was quashed by SC. It held that his remarks constituted genuine criticism of the government and could not be labeled seditious.
  • In doing so, the court also reiterated the principles in the landmark case on sedition — Kedar Nath Singh v Union of India (1962).

What are the Kedar Nath Singh guidelines?

  • In the landmark 1962 Kedar Nath Singh case, the Supreme Court upheld the constitutional validity of the sedition law, it attempted to restrict its scope for misuse.
  • The court held that unless accompanied by incitement or call for violence, criticism of the government cannot be labeled sedition.

Seven principles in the Kedar Nath Singh ruling specify situations in which the charge of sedition cannot be applied:

  1. The expression “ ‘the Government established by law’ has to be distinguished from the persons for the time being engaged in carrying on the administration. ‘Government established by law’ is the visible symbol of the State. The very existence of the State will be in jeopardy if the Government established by law is subverted.”
  2. The effect of subverting the Government by bringing that Government into contempt or hatred, or creating disaffection against it, would be within the penal statute because the feeling of disloyalty to the Government established by law or enmity to it imports the idea of a tendency to public disorder by the use of actual violence or incitement to violence.
  3. Comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of actions of the Government, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence, would not be penal.
  4. A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder.
  5. The provisions of the Sections read as a whole, along with the explanations, make it reasonably clear that the sections aim at rendering penal only such activities as would be intended, or have a tendency, to create disorder or disturbance of public peace by resort to violence.
  6. It is only when the words, written or spoken, etc. which have the pernicious tendency or intention of creating public disorder or disturbance of law and order that the law steps in to prevent such activities in the interest of public order.
  7. The court proposed to limit its operation only to such activities as come within the ambit of the observations of the Federal Court, that is to say, activities involving incitement to violence or intention or tendency to create public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace.

What has been the impact of that verdict?

  • The significance of the verdict lies in the Supreme Court’s subsequent reiteration of the Kedar Nath Singh principles.
  • A fresh constitutional challenge by two journalists against the sedition law pending before the Supreme Court, and the ruling in Dua’s case, make a strong case against keeping the colonial law in the books.
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