Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

India press freedom score falls, says Reporters sans Frontieres

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Freedom of Expression; Freedom of Press; World Press Freedom Index

Mains level: Issues with Freedom of Expression in India;

Why in the news?

India’s score in the World Press Freedom Index fell over the last year, from 36.62 to 31.28, according to Reporters Without Borders. In South Asia, India finds itself ranked at 159th, while its neighbor Pakistan stands marginally higher at 152.

Key Highlights of the Report:

  • Deterioration Since 2014: Press freedom in India has significantly deteriorated since 2014.
  • Government vs Media Nexus: The government is criticized for maintaining a close relationship with big media families, leading to a lack of independence and critical journalism being labeled as “anti-national and anti-India“.
  • Self-Censorship: Fear of political backlash has forced journalists to censor themselves, as Modi’s supporters aggressively target critical reporting of the government.
  • Corporatization of Media: There’s an increasing trend of wealthy businessmen close to Modi owning a majority of mainstream media outlets, which undermines media independence and diversity.
  • BBC Raids: Recent raids on the BBC offices in India have drawn international criticism and contributed to India’s declining press freedom ranking.
  • Comparative Analysis: While India’s press freedom declines, neighboring countries like Pakistan and Sri Lanka have improved, although they still lag behind global leaders in press freedom rankings.

India’s Initiative of “Index Monitoring Cell”:

  • Purpose of the Cell: The Index Monitoring Cell has been set up to work on improving India’s press freedom ranking. It will consist of representatives from various government agencies and credible journalists suggested by the Press Council of India.
  • Ranking Parameters: The cell will engage with agencies publishing the World Press Freedom Index, like Reporters Without Borders, for a better understanding of the parameters and methodology used for the rankings. This will help formulate an action plan to address the issues identified.
  • Coordination with State Governments: The cell will coordinate with state governments to appoint nodal officers who can provide regular updates on the state of press freedom and any issues faced by journalists at the local level.
  • Engagement with Stakeholders: This aims to improve communication and visibility of steps taken to support press freedom and address concerns raised by global media watchdogs.
  • Reporting Mechanisms: Setting up proper reporting mechanisms is crucial to ensure that the data and information provided to ranking agencies are up-to-date and accurate. This will help in portraying a clearer picture of the press freedom landscape in India.

Conclusion: India needs to enact and strengthen laws to protect the freedom of the Press and ensure journalists’ safety. This includes legislation to prevent harassment, attacks, and threats against journalists, as well as provisions for swift and effective legal recourse in cases of censorship or intimidation.

Mains PYQ 

Q What do understand by the concept “freedom of speech and expression”? Does it cover hate speech also? Why do the films in India stand on a slightly different plane from other forms of expression? Discuss. (UPSC IAS/2014)

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Hate Speech: Interpreting Section 153A IPC

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Section 153A , IPC, Freedom of Speech and Reasonable Restrictions

Mains level: NA

What is the news?

  • The Supreme Court reiterated that to constitute an offence under Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the essential ingredient is to create a sense of enmity and disharmony amongst two or more groups or communities.
  • Quite often, politicians are arrested under section 153 A of IPC for alleged hate speech.

Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC)

  • Section 153A of the IPC deals with the offence of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.
  • The primary is to prevent the promotion of disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred, or ill-will between different groups in society.
  • It was enacted in 1898 and was not in the original penal code.

Prohibited Acts:

The section prohibits several acts:

  1. Engaging in activities that promote or attempt to promote feelings of enmity or hatred between different religious, racial, linguistic, or regional groups.
  2. Committing acts prejudicial to the maintenance of harmony between different groups or communities.
  3. Doing anything that disturbs or disrupts public tranquillity or creates unrest among various groups.

Essential Elements:

To constitute an offence under Section 153A, the following essential elements must be established:

  1. Promotion of enmity or hatred between different groups.
  2. Such promotion must be based on religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc.
  3. The intention behind the act must be to disrupt public tranquillity or to create disharmony among groups.

Punishment:

  • Jail Term: Any individual found guilty of committing an offence under Section 153A may be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to 3 years, or with a fine, or with both.
  • Cognizable and Non-Bailable: The offence is a cognizable offence and the punishment for the same may extend to three years, or with fine, or with both. Further, the offence is non-bailable in nature, wherein the accused is tried by the magistrate of the first class.
  • Burden of Proof: It lies with the prosecution to demonstrate that the accused’s words, actions, or conduct were aimed at promoting enmity or hatred between different groups based on the specified grounds.

PYQ:

2014: What do understand by the concept “freedom of speech and expression”? Does it cover hate speech also? Why do the films in India stand on a slightly different plane from other forms of expression? Discuss.

 

2022: With reference to India, consider the following statements:

  1. When a prisoner makes out a sufficient case, parole cannot be denied to such prisoner because it becomes a matter of his/her right.
  2. State Governments have their own Prisoners Release on Parole Rules.

Which of the statements given above is/are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

 

Practice MCQ:

Q.The Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) essentially deals with:

  1. Fake News
  2. Hate Speech
  3. Protest without permission
  4. Encroachment

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

PIB’s Fact Check Unit: Combating Misinformation in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Fact Check Unit (FCU) and its Functions

Mains level: Not Much

Why in the news-

  • Weeks ahead of the election, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on Wednesday notified the Press Information Bureau’s Fact Check Unit (FCU) as the designated body to flag misinformation about Central government departments to social media platforms.

Why PIB?

 

  • Under the GoI (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961, the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) is entrusted with the responsibility of disseminating information about government policies, schemes, and programs through various mediums of communication.
  • In fulfilling its role, the Ministry publicizes the policies, initiatives, schemes, and programs of the Government of India through press releases, press conferences, webinars, publication of books, etc.
  • To carry out this crucial function, the Ministry has several attached and subordinate offices, including the Press Information Bureau (PIB).

What is Fact Check Unit (FCU)?

  • The Fact Check Unit’s mandate arises from the IT Rules, 2021, which stipulate that social media platforms risk losing legal liability protections if they fail to address notified misinformation promptly.
  • The unit verifies claims about government policies, regulations, announcements and measures.
  • Through an established rigorous fact-checking procedure, the PIB Fact Check Unit helps in dispelling myths, rumours and false claims, and provides accurate and reliable information to the public.

Operational Framework

  • The FCU, led by senior DG/ADG level officer of the Indian Information Service (IIS), operates under the supervision of the Principal Director General of PIB.
  • Its mandate includes verifying claims related to government policies, regulations, and announcements through a rigorous fact-checking process.
  • The Unit reports to the Principal Director General, PIB who functions as the Principal Spokesperson of the Government of India.

Fact-Check Mechanism

  • Query Handling: Users submit requests via WhatsApp, email, or a web portal, which are processed as ‘Queries’ by the Unit.
  • Verification Process: Actionable Queries relevant to the Government of India undergo thorough verification using official sources and technological tools.
  • Publication of Fact Checks: Verified information is categorized as Fake, Misleading, or True, and published on the Unit’s social media platforms for public awareness.

Categories of Fact-Checked Content

  1. Fake: Factually incorrect information intentionally or unintentionally disseminated to deceive or manipulate the audience.
  2. Misleading: Information presented with partial truths, selective facts, or distortion to mislead recipients.
  3. True: Information verified to be factually accurate after rigorous investigation.

PYQ:

2017: Democracy’s superior virtue lies in the fact that it calls into activity-

  1. The intelligence and character of ordinary men and women.
  2. The methods for strengthening executive leadership.
  3. A superior individual with dynamism and vision.
  4. A band of dedicated party workers.

 

Practice MCQ:

The centre has recently established the Fact Check Unit (FCU) as a designated body to flag misinformation in India. In this regard, consider the following statements:

  1. Establishment of FCU is mandated under the Right to Information (RTI) Act, 2005.
  2. The FCU is led by an officer of the Indian Audit and Accounts Service (IAAS).

Which of the given statements is/are correct?

  1. Only 1
  2. Only 2
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

 

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

India ‘one of the Worst Autocratisers’: V-Dem Democracy Report

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Liberal Democratic Index (LDI)

Mains level: Propaganda reports against India

In the news

  • India, previously categorized as an “electoral autocracy” in 2018, has further declined to become one of the “worst autocratizers,” according to the ‘Democracy Report 2024’ by the Gothenburg-based V-Dem (or Varieties of Democracy) Institute.

Key highlights on India

  • Deteriorating Status: India, previously downgraded to an electoral autocracy in 2018, has further declined to become “one of the worst autocratizers.”
  • Historical Comparison: India’s level of “liberal democracy” has regressed significantly, reaching levels last seen in 1975 during the state of emergency declared by Indira Gandhi.
  • Regime Classification: India falls into the category of electoral autocracy, characterized by multiparty elections alongside insufficient levels of freedom of expression and fair elections.
  • Erosion of Democratic Freedoms: The report highlights the gradual deterioration of freedom of expression, media independence, and attacks on civil society under the current government.

About the V-Dem Democracy Report

  • Publication: The V-Dem Institute releases the Democracy Report annually, offering insights into the state of democracy worldwide, focusing on democratization and autocratization.
  • Regime Classification: Countries are categorized into four regime types based on their scores in the Liberal Democratic Index (LDI), encompassing a spectrum from liberal democracy to closed autocracy.

What is Liberal Democratic Index (LDI)?

  • Comprehensive Assessment: The LDI evaluates both liberal (individual and minority rights) and electoral aspects (free and fair elections) of democracy.
  • Indicators: It comprises 71 indicators, encompassing the Liberal Component Index (LCI) and the Electoral Democracy Index (EDI), capturing various dimensions of democratic governance.
    1. LCI: Measures aspects like protection of individual liberties and legislative constraints on the executive.
    2. EDI: Considers indicators ensuring free and fair elections such as freedom of expression and association.
  • Components of the LDI include:
  1. Egalitarian Component Index: Assesses the extent of equality among different social groups within a democracy.
  2. Participatory Component Index: Evaluates the health of citizen groups and civil society organizations, indicating the degree of citizen engagement.
  3. Deliberative Component Index: Gauges whether political decisions are driven by public reasoning focused on the common good or influenced by emotional appeals, solidarity attachments, or coercion.
  4. Publication Schedule: The Democracy Report is typically published annually in March, presenting a comprehensive analysis of global democratic trends.

Key Findings from the Democracy Report 2024:

  • Collaborative Effort: The report is a collaborative endeavour involving 4,200 scholars from 180 countries, leveraging 31 million datasets spanning from 1789 to 2023 to assess the democratic status of 202 countries.
  • Global Trends:
  1. Autocratization: In 2023, 42 countries, representing 35% of the world’s population, were undergoing autocratization.
  2. Population in Autocracies: Currently, 71% of the world’s population, amounting to 5.7 billion people, resides in autocracies, marking a significant increase from 48% a decade ago.
  3. Decline in Democracy: The level of democracy experienced by the average individual globally has regressed to 1985 levels, with Eastern Europe, South, and Central Asia experiencing the sharpest declines.

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Defamation in the Digital Age: The Case of Arvind Kejriwal

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Criminal Defamation, Free Speech

Mains level: Defamation in the Digital Realm, Tweets, Videos

In the news

Try this question from CS Mains 2014:

What do understand by the concept of “freedom of speech and expression”? Does it cover hate speech also? Why do films in India stand on a slightly different plane from other forms of expression? Discuss.

What is the Right to Free Speech?

  • Freedom: Article 19(1) (a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression to all citizens. It is the first condition of liberty and plays an important role in forming public opinion.
  • Restrictions: As per Article 19(2), restrictions can be imposed upon the freedom of speech and expression in the interests of:
  1. Sovereignty and integrity of India,
  2. Security of the state,
  3. Friendly relations with foreign states,
  4. Public order, decency or morality, or
  5. In relation to contempt of court,
  6. Defamation, or
  7. Incitement to an offense
  • Online Discourse: The proliferation of social media platforms necessitates a nuanced understanding of free speech rights in the digital realm, balancing individual liberties with societal interests.
  • Immunity for Politicians: For politicians, while they enjoy the right to free speech, they are also subject to certain limitations. Criticism of the government or its policies is generally allowed as long as it does not incite violence or hatred.

Legal Conundrum over Digital Defamation

  • Background: Kejriwal faced defamation charges for retweeting a video by a YouTuber Dhruv Rathee, alleging defamatory statements against the BJP’s IT cell.
  • Legal Proceedings: The Delhi High Court upheld the summons issued to Kejriwal, citing the widespread impact of retweets by public figures.
  • Constitutional Considerations: The right to free speech, protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, is subject to reasonable restrictions, including defamation laws under Article 19(2).
  • Retweeting vs. Endorsement: The court’s intervention underscores the distinction between retweeting and endorsing content. While retweeting may not always signify endorsement, public figures are held to a higher standard of responsibility for their online actions.
  • Defamation Laws: Indian law, as delineated in Section 499 of the Indian Penal Code, criminalizes statements intended to harm an individual’s reputation. However, applying these laws to online communication poses unique challenges.

Legal Precedents and Interpretations

  • Shreya Singhal vs. Union of India (2015): Section 66A of The IT Act, 2000, had criminalised sending “offensive messages” utilizing “a computer resource or a communication device”. This provision was quashed by the SC given the ambiguity in the definition of the term “offensive”.
  • Subramanian Swamy vs. Union of India (2016): The Supreme Court affirmed the constitutionality of criminal defamation laws, balancing the right to reputation with freedom of expression.
  • Kaushal Kishore vs. Union of India (2017): The Court clarified that additional restrictions on free speech must align with Article 19(2) and cannot be arbitrarily imposed.

Implications for Online Discourse

  • Scope of Defamation: Online retweets amplify the dissemination of allegedly defamatory content, raising questions about liability and accountability.
  • Responsibility of Public Figures: Public figures like Kejriwal face heightened scrutiny for their online activities, given their influence and reach on social media platforms.

Conclusion

  • This defamation case underscores the evolving dynamics of communication in the digital age.
  • As online discourse continues to shape public opinion, striking a balance between freedom of expression and legal safeguards against defamation remains a pressing challenge.
  • The Supreme Court’s intervention provides an opportunity to reassess existing laws and norms governing online speech, ensuring that rights and responsibilities are harmonized in the digital realm.

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

British-era Act invoked to Block Internet in Punjab

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Various laws, judgments mentioned

Mains level: Internet Shut-downs

Introduction

  • The Union government invoked its authority under a colonial-era Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services Rules, 2017 to suspend mobile Internet in select districts of Punjab during Farm Protests 2.0.

Mechanisms allowing Internet Shut-downs

Authorities Purpose
Temporary Suspension of Telecom Services (Public Emergency or Public Safety) Rules, 2017 Home Departments in the states, state government review committee, central government (under this law, but rarely used) Enforces shutdowns for public emergency or safety reasons.
Section 144 of the CrPC Local law enforcement authorities Enables shutdowns, particularly before 2017, to maintain public order and safety.
The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, Section 5(2) Home Secretary of the Union or state governments Allows blocking of messaging during a public emergency, safeguarding public safety, or protecting sovereignty and integrity.

 

Constitutional Provisions for Right to Internet

Constitutional Provision Explanation
Anuradha Bhasin vs. Union of India and Ors. (2020) Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19(1)(a) Grants the right to freedom of speech and expression, which encompasses access to information and the Internet.
Faheema Shirin RK vs. State of Kerala and others (2019) Right to Education under Article 21A Guarantees the right to education for children aged 6 to 14;

Internet access is crucial for modern education.

K.S. Puttaswamy (Privacy) vs. Union of India (2017) Right to Privacy under Article 21 Protects the fundamental right to privacy, and Internet access is often used for secure communication.
Anuradha Bhasin vs. Union of India and Ors. Freedom to Practice Any Profession or Carry on Any Trade, Business, or Occupation under Article 19(1)(g) Ensures the freedom to conduct various trades, businesses, and professions, often requiring Internet access.

Landmark Precedence: Anuradha Bhasin Judgment (2020)

  • Supreme Court’s Ruling: In January 2020, the Supreme Court of India recognized access to the Internet as a fundamental right under the Indian Constitution.
  • Restrictions Guidelines: The Court mandated that any government-imposed Internet restrictions must be temporary, limited, lawful, necessary, and proportionate. It also emphasized judicial review.

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

22nd Law Commission recommends retaining Criminal Defamation

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Criminal Defamation, Law Commission

Mains level: Read the attached story

defamation

Introduction

  • The 22nd Law Commission has recommended retaining criminal defamation as an offence in the new legal framework of Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita.
  • The Law Commission’s report highlights the importance of protecting an individual’s reputation, grounded in Article 21 of the Constitution, which safeguards the right to life and personal liberty.

Key Recommendations: Upholding Reputation

  • Invisible Asset: Reputation, a valuable asset, cannot be seen but is diligently built over a lifetime and can be tarnished in an instant.
  • Essence of Protection: The jurisprudence around criminal defamation laws is rooted in the essence of safeguarding one’s reputation.
  • Balancing Act: While acknowledging that criminal defamation might seem contradictory to freedom of speech and expression, the Law Commission suggests treading carefully.
  • Harmful Speech: The Commission advises that speech should only be deemed illegal when it intends substantial harm, and when such harm becomes a reality.

What is Criminal Defamation?

  • Defamation: Defamation entails the act of publishing damaging content that diminishes an individual’s or entity’s reputation, from the viewpoint of an ordinary person. In India, defamation is both a civil and criminal offense.
  • Sections 499 and 500: These sections in the Indian Penal Code address criminal defamation. Section 499 defines the offense, while Section 500 outlines the associated punishment.

Arguments in Favor of Retaining Criminal Defamation

  • Protection of Reputation: An individual’s reputation, an integral part of Article 21, is as vital as free speech.
  • Balancing Act: The right to free speech (Article 19(1)(a)) must be balanced against the right to reputation (Article 21).
  • Inadequate Compensation: Monetary compensation in civil defamation may not proportionately compensate for reputation harm.
  • Editorial Responsibility: Editors bear the responsibility for published content, with significant consequences for individuals and the nation.
  • Counteracting Online Defamation: In the absence of an effective internet censorship mechanism, criminalizing defamation is a necessary safeguard.
  • State’s Interest: Criminalizing defamation is part of the state’s compelling interest to protect citizens’ dignity and reputation.

Arguments against Retaining  

  • Chilling Effect: Criminal defamation may have a chilling effect on free speech, with a lower threshold for prosecution than civil damages.
  • Media Freedom: Freedom of speech and media expression is crucial for vibrant democracies, and the threat of prosecution can stifle truth.
  • Misinterpretation of Dissent: Dissent may be misconstrued as unpalatable criticism, leading to imprisonment under Sections 499 and 500 of IPC.
  • Collective Reputation: The right to reputation cannot extend to collectives like the government, which can rectify reputational damage.
  • Redundancy: Since civil defamation remedies exist, retaining criminal defamation may serve little purpose except coercion and harassment.
  • Global Trend: Many nations, including neighbouring Sri Lanka and the UK, have decriminalized defamation.
  • International Perspective: The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights urges states to abolish criminal defamation as it intimidates citizens and deters exposing wrongdoing.

Conclusion

  • Criminal defamation cases have been used to suppress investigative journalism, hindering democratic accountability.
  • Criminal defamation should not be misused by the state, especially as the Code of Criminal Procedure gives public servants an advantage.
  • Interim measures can ensure fair proceedings and prevent excessive penalties.

Back2Basics: Law Commission of India

Details
Establishment An executive body established by the Government of India, with the first commission established in 1955.
Tenure Each Law Commission serves a term of three years.
Function Acts as an advisory body to the Ministry of Law and Justice for legal reforms in India.
Recommendations The recommendations made by the Law Commission are not binding.
Historical Background The first Law Commission was established during the British Raj in 1834 by the Charter Act of 1833.
First Chairman The first Chairman of the Law Commission was Macaulay, who recommended the codification of laws.
Composition Typically consists of a full-time Chairperson, full-time Members, ex-officio Members, and part-time Members.
Terms of Reference Undertakes research and reviews of existing laws, recommends reforms, and studies justice delivery systems.
Major Reforms The Law Commission played a pivotal role in suggesting key enactments like the Indian Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code.
Role in Legal Reforms Serves as both an advisory and critical body, with its recommendations often influencing legal reforms in India.
Supreme Court References The Supreme Court has referred to the work of the Law Commission and followed its recommendations in various cases.
Promotion of Accountability Aims to promote an accountable and citizen-friendly government, transparency, and the right to information.

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Split Verdict in Kunal Kamra’s Petition: Implications of IT Rules Amendment

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Fact-Checking Unit (FCU)

Mains level: Amended IT Rules

Introduction

  • A two-judge Bench of the Bombay High Court recently delivered a split verdict on a comedian’s petition challenging the IT (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Amendment Rules, 2023.
  • These rules grant the government the authority to establish a fact-checking unit (FCU) to identify fake, false, and misleading information about the government on social media platforms.
  • The case will now be referred to a third judge by the Chief Justice of the Bombay High Court due to the disagreement between the two justices.

Provisions of IT Rules (2023)

  • Fact-Checking Unit (FCU): Amended IT rules empower the government to establish an FCU to identify and remove fake, false, or misleading information related to the Central government’s business on social media platforms.
  • Consequences for Non-compliance: Failure to comply with FCU directives may result in intermediaries losing their safe harbour protection under Section 79 of the IT Act, 2000.

Court’s Concerns and Observations

  • Unfettered Power: The Court expressed concerns about the government’s unfettered power in the absence of clear guidelines and guardrails, emphasizing the need for necessary safeguards.
  • Ambiguity in Terms: The Court noted ambiguity in terms like “fake, false, and misleading” which are subjective and open to interpretation, posing challenges in distinguishing between them.
  • Selective Application: The Court questioned why the IT Rules exclusively targeted digital media, leaving print media unaffected, especially when the same content appears in both forms.
  • FCU’s Role: Concerns were raised about the FCU’s role and the absence of recourse for users whose content is removed after being flagged by the FCU. The Court expressed worries about the user’s lack of remedy in such cases.
  • Overreach: The Court raised concerns about the potential overreach of the Rules, emphasizing that even well-intentioned regulations must have limits to avoid excessive use of power.
  • Lack of Opportunity for Defense: The Court found it remarkable that there was no provision in the Rules allowing an intermediary to defend or justify flagged content, violating principles of natural justice.

Legal Arguments

  • Petitioners’ Stand: The petitioners argued that the amendment violated freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) and did not satisfy reasonable restrictions under Article 19(2). They contended that the government’s power to decide the truth of content was excessive.
  • Government’s Stand: The government defended the FCU, stating that it would only notify intermediaries about flagged content, and the intermediaries could choose to remove it or add a disclaimer. Users aggrieved by intermediary decisions could seek legal remedies in court.

Conclusion

  • The split verdict highlights the complexity and significance of the IT Rules (2023) and their potential impact on freedom of speech and expression.
  • The Court’s concerns about ambiguous terms, selective application, and lack of safeguards underscore the need for a balanced approach to regulate online content while protecting fundamental rights.
  • The case’s referral to a third judge will determine its outcome and implications for digital media regulation in India.

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023: Key Features and Changes

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023

Mains level: Not Much

Central Idea

  • The Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023, faced opposition uproar but was passed in the Rajya Sabha on August 3. Subsequently, it was approved in the Lok Sabha on December 21, marking its legislative passage.

Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill: Purpose and Objectives

  • Repealing the 1867 Act: The Bill aims to repeal the Press and Registration of Books Act, 1867, modernizing the regulatory framework for periodicals.
  • Key Provisions: It includes a notable clause preventing individuals convicted of terrorism or acting against state security from publishing periodicals.
  • Rationale for Introduction: The Bill focuses on easing business processes for publishers, removing procedural hurdles, and reducing the administrative burden of declarations and filings.

Comparison with the 1867 Act

  • Exclusion of Books: Unlike the 1867 Act, the 2023 Bill excludes books from its purview, as they fall under the HRD Ministry’s jurisdiction.
  • Penalty Structure: The new Bill replaces imprisonment with fines for certain violations and introduces an appellate mechanism led by the Press Council of India Chairman.
  • Shift in Administrative Power: Power is transferred from the District Magistrate to the newly established Press Registrar General, centralizing the registration and regulation process.

Declaration and Registration Process

  • Simplification of Procedures: The Bill simplifies the declaration process, eliminating the need for DM involvement and allowing online intimations for printing presses.
  • Simultaneous Processing: It enables concurrent processing of title allotment and registration applications, streamlining the procedure.
  • Time-Bound Responses: The specified authority must provide feedback within 60 days, expediting the registration process.

UAPA Provision in the Bill

  • Restriction on Convicted Individuals: The Bill bars individuals convicted of terrorist acts or unlawful activities, as defined under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967, from publishing periodicals.
  • Security Concerns: This provision addresses concerns about the misuse of periodicals for activities threatening national security or sovereignty.

Conclusion

  • Modernizing Media Regulation: The Press and Registration of Periodicals Bill, 2023, represents a significant overhaul of India’s media regulatory framework, aligning it with contemporary needs.
  • Balancing Ease of Business and Security: While the Bill aims to facilitate easier operations for publishers, it also incorporates measures to safeguard against security threats.
  • Potential for Debate and Discussion: The Bill’s passage, amidst opposition concerns, suggests ongoing debates about media freedom, security, and regulatory oversight in India’s evolving democratic landscape.

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Global Internet Freedom Decline in 2023

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: 'Freedom on the Net 2023' Report

Mains level: Read the attached story

internet freedom

Central Idea

  • Freedom House’s latest report highlights the 13th consecutive year of declining global Internet freedom.
  • This decline has seen deteriorations in the human rights online situation in 29 countries, with only 20 countries registering improvements.

Report: ‘Freedom on the Net 2023: The Repressive Power of Artificial Intelligence’

  • Key Concerns: The report underscores the escalating use of artificial intelligence (AI) by governments worldwide, emphasizing its role in censorship and the dissemination of disinformation.
  • Scope: Covering events from June 2022 to May 2023, the 13th edition evaluates Internet freedom in 70 countries, collectively accounting for 88% of global Internet users.

Regional Findings

  • Iran’s Sharp Rise in Digital Repression: Iran witnessed the sharpest escalation in digital repression. Authorities resorted to Internet shutdowns, blocked WhatsApp and Instagram, and intensified surveillance to quell anti-government protests.
  • China’s Perennial Status: For the ninth consecutive year, China retained its position as the world’s worst environment for Internet freedom, followed by Myanmar, the second most repressive nation concerning online freedoms.

Legal Repercussions and Arrests

  • Global Crackdown on Expression: The report highlights that individuals faced legal consequences for online expression in a record 55 countries this year.
  • Widespread Arrests: The number of countries conducting widespread arrests and imposing multi-year prison terms for online activities has surged, growing from 18 in 2014 to 31 in 2023.
  • Elections as Triggers: Elections emerged as triggers for digital repression. Ahead of elections, incumbent leaders in various countries criminalized speech, restricted access to independent news sites, and imposed information controls to influence the electoral outcome in their favor.

AI-Enabled Repression in India

  • Censorship in Legal Framework: The report spotlights India’s inclusion of censorship, including AI-based systems, within its legal framework. The Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules mandate large social media platforms to employ AI-based moderation tools for diverse types of content.
  • Example – BBC Documentary: The report cites the Indian government’s directive to YouTube and Twitter to restrict access to a BBC documentary on communal violence. The IT Rules compel these platforms to use automated scanning tools to remove related content.

Censorship Methods in India

  • 5 Censorship Methods: The report evaluates countries on five censorship methods:
  1. Internet connectivity restrictions,
  2. Blocks on social media platforms,
  3. Blocks on websites,
  4. Blocks on VPNs, and
  5. Forced content removal.
  • Further Censorship Actions: India has also been involved in blocking websites featuring political, social, or religious content, disrupting ICT networks, deploying pro-government commentators to manipulate online discussions, and conducting technical attacks against government critics and human rights organizations.
  • Digital Freedom Index: On a scale of 1 to 100, where ‘100’ represents the highest digital freedom and ‘1’ signifies the worst repression, India received a score of 50. In contrast, Iceland emerged as the leader with a score of 94, boasting the best climate for Internet freedom.

Implications for India

  • Uneven Playing Field: As India prepares for general elections in 2024, the government’s expanding censorship regime is highlighted as a threat to Indian democracy.
  • Curb on free speech: It suppresses criticism and independent reporting on the ruling party.

Conclusion

  • The report’s findings underscore the global decline in Internet freedom, driven partly by the increasing use of AI for censorship and disinformation campaigns.
  • The implications of this trend on freedom of expression, privacy, and democracy necessitate vigilant monitoring and international action to protect digital rights in an increasingly interconnected world.

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Press Freedom and Free Speech in Southeast Asia

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Press Freedom Rankings in SE Asia

Central Idea

  • Southeast Asian nations consistently rank among the worst globally for press freedom and media rights.
  • Autocratic governments in the region have increasingly resorted to closing independent newspapers and imprisoning activists who criticize the authorities.

Press Freedom Rankings

  • Pew Research Findings: According to the Pew Research Center’s report on religion and politics in South and Southeast Asia, the embrace of free speech and democracy is not widespread in the region.
  • Global Press Freedom Rankings: Organizations like “Reporters without Borders” annually rank nations in terms of press freedom. In the latest World Press Freedom Index, Vietnam and Myanmar were among the worst-ranked countries, with Malaysia being the exception.
  • Deteriorating Standards: Declining press freedom worldwide is attributed to increasing aggressiveness by authorities, growing animosity towards journalists on social media, and the proliferation of fake content.

Freedom on the Net Rankings

  • Online Free Speech Monitoring: Freedom House’s Freedom On The Net index evaluates online free-speech conditions. Myanmar, China, Vietnam, and Thailand ranked poorly, highlighting online restrictions and censorship.

Public Perspectives on Free Speech

  • Notion of National Harmony: Governments in Southeast Asia, which encompass a diverse range of political systems, generally concur on the need to limit free speech to safeguard national “harmony.”
  • Pew Research Focus: Unlike traditional press freedom rankings, the Pew study delves into the views of ordinary people on free speech issues.
  • Key Findings: The report revealed that the majority of respondents in three out of four Southeast Asian states prioritize national “harmony” over free speech. However, a notable minority in Malaysia and Singapore held a contrasting view.

Various impacts on Free speech

  • Age and Education Impact: Younger and more educated respondents were more likely to advocate for the right to criticize the government and prioritize free speech over social harmony.
  • Religious Influence: The report also noted differences in attitudes based on religion. For instance, Thai Muslims were more inclined to prioritize social harmony over free speech compared to Thai Buddhists.

Government Justifications

  • Lese-Majeste Laws: Thai authorities argue that strict lese-majeste laws are necessary to protect “Thainess” and the monarchy.
  • Cambodian Government: Cambodia’s government defends stringent restrictions by portraying opposition politicians and independent media as threats to the nation’s hard-won peace.
  • Communist Governments: Vietnam and Laos assert that collective interests take precedence over individual rights.
  • Singapore’s Approach: Singapore, a multi-ethnic state, expanded “hate speech” laws, emphasizing the importance of not allowing any race or religion to be attacked or insulted.

Critique of Laws

  • Effectiveness Questioned: Critics argue that harsh “hate speech” and other laws in the region may not genuinely preserve social harmony and can restrict freedoms.
  • Asia Centre Report: A 2021 report from the Asia Centre contends that such laws reinforce the dominance of the ethno-religious majority, limit freedom of religion or belief, and muzzle grievances from minority communities.
  • Political Exploitation: Ethno-religious dominant governments are accused of exploiting societal divisions for political gain.

Conclusion

  • Balancing the preservation of national “harmony” with the protection of individual liberties remains a contentious issue.
  • As younger, more educated individuals express stronger support for free speech, it suggests the potential for evolving perspectives in the future.

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Criminal Defamation in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Criminal Defamation

Mains level: Not Much

Central Idea

  • The Supreme Court’s recent decision to stay the conviction in a criminal defamation case has significant implications for the parliamentary representation of a prominent political leader.
  • The court highlighted the absence of valid reasons for awarding the maximum sentence and emphasized the need for mutual respect and caution in public speeches.

Disqualification of Lawmakers

  • This is an important aspect of maintaining the integrity of the legislative bodies.
  • In India, disqualification can occur under constitutional provisions and the Representation of The People Act (RPA), 1951.
  • Additionally, the Tenth Schedule deals with defection-related disqualifications.

Grounds for Disqualification

  • Constitutional Provisions: Disqualification under Articles 102(1) and 191(1) applies to members of Parliament and Legislative Assemblies. Grounds include holding an office of profit, being of unsound mind, insolvent, or lacking valid citizenship.
  • Defection: The Tenth Schedule of the Constitution provides for disqualification on the grounds of defection.
  • RPA, 1951: This Act mandates disqualification for conviction in criminal cases.

Disqualification under RPA, 1951

  • Section 8: Section 8 of the RPA deals with disqualification for conviction of offences.
  • Objective: The provision aims to prevent the criminalization of politics and bar ‘tainted’ lawmakers from contesting elections.
  • Disqualification Period: Section 8(3) specifies that a person convicted of an offence and sentenced to imprisonment for at least two years will be disqualified from the date of conviction and for an additional six years after release.

Appeal and Stay of Disqualification

  • Reversal: Disqualification can be reversed if a higher court grants a stay on the conviction or decides the appeal in favor of the convicted lawmaker.
  • Lok Prahari v Union of India: In a 2018 decision, the Supreme Court clarified that the disqualification will not take effect if the appellate court stays the conviction.
  • Appeals Process: For example, if a convicted lawmaker appeals, it would first go to the Surat Sessions Court and then to the Gujarat High Court.

Changes in the Law

  • Section 8(4) of RPA: Previously, Section 8(4) stated that disqualification takes effect after three months from the date of conviction.
  • Lily Thomas v Union of India: In the landmark 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court struck down Section 8(4) of the RPA as unconstitutional.
  • Significance: The verdict aimed to prevent convicted politicians from continuing to hold public office while their appeals were pending, contributing to the purification of Indian politics.

Supreme Court’s recent observations

  • Lack of Reasoning: The court noted that the trial judge failed to provide any reasons for awarding the maximum sentence, considering the penal code allowed various options for punishment.
  • High Court’s Omission: The Supreme Court observed that the High Court, in its judgment, overlooked the crucial aspect of the lack of reasoning behind the severe punishment.
  • Impact on Representation: The court highlighted that disqualification from Parliament affects not only the individual but also the electorate represented by the person in question, raising concerns about unrepresented constituencies.
  • Exercise of Caution by Public Figures: While accepting the apology for his previous “thief” remarks during the general elections, the Court reminded him of the need for caution in public speeches due to his position in public life.

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Should Internet shutdowns be used to maintain public order?

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: NA

Mains level: Frequent Internet shutdowns, need and consequences, Need for an balanced approach

Central Idea

  • In recent years, the Indian government has increasingly resorted to internet shutdowns as a means to control law and order in various regions, such as Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), Manipur, and Punjab. India has witnessed a staggering 60% of internet shutdowns worldwide between 2016 and 2022.

Relevance of the topic

India emerged as the single biggest offender for a fifth consecutive year, with at least 84 internet blackouts in 2022

Shutdowns could have devastating impact on human lives such as , it may deepen the gender digital divide, disrupting the ability of women to conduct business or access information on reproductive healthcare

Reasons behind internet shutdowns in India

  • Communal tensions: Approximately 40-50% of internet shutdowns in India are officially attributed to communal tensions. Shutdowns are imposed to prevent the spread of rumors, hate speech, and incitement to violence during periods of heightened communal tensions.
  • Protests and demonstrations: Shutdowns are frequently imposed during protests and situations of civil unrest to control the spread of information, coordinate activities, and prevent further mobilization of protesters.
  • Preventing cheating in exams: Internet shutdowns have been imposed during exams to curb cheating and prevent the use of online resources that may aid in dishonest practices.
  • Religious processions: Shutdowns have also been observed during religious processions, particularly in regions with religious sensitivities, to prevent the circulation of inflammatory content and maintain public order.

Case study: Reviewing shutdowns in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) and Manipur

  1. Jammu and Kashmir (J&K):
  • Prolonged Shutdown: The shutdown in J&K has been characterized by its extended duration, causing significant disruptions to the daily lives of residents. Internet access was severely restricted for an extended period, impacting essential services such as healthcare, education, and livelihoods.
  • Lack of Due Process: Concerns have been raised regarding the decision-making process, with instances of shutdowns imposed by district magistrates without higher-level involvement. This raises questions about procedural fairness and the adherence to due process.
  • Transparency and Justification: The lack of public information regarding shutdowns in J&K is a cause for concern. The transparency and clarity of justifications for imposing shutdowns are essential for accountability and safeguarding constitutional rights.
  1. Manipur:
  • Ongoing Shutdown and VPN Blocking: The Manipur High Court has formed a committee to explore blocking VPN servers while maintaining restrictions on social media websites. However, the feasibility of this solution is questioned as VPNs also play a role in the exercise of freedom of speech and expression.
  • Impact on Livelihoods and Services: The need to protect people’s livelihoods is emphasized, given the reliance on the internet for businesses and livelihoods. Ensuring access to critical services like healthcare and education during shutdowns becomes crucial.

Impact of internet shutdowns

  • Restriction of Fundamental Rights: Internet shutdowns curtail the exercise of fundamental rights, such as freedom of expression, access to information, and the right to privacy. These shutdowns limit people’s ability to communicate, express themselves, and access essential information.
  • Economic Consequences: Internet shutdowns have adverse effects on businesses, particularly those that rely on the internet for their operations. E-commerce, online services, and digital platforms suffer financial losses during shutdowns.
  • Disruption of Essential Services: Internet shutdowns disrupt access to critical services like healthcare, education, and emergency services. Telemedicine, online education, and remote work become inaccessible, impacting people’s well-being, educational opportunities, and productivity
  • Human Rights Violations: Prolonged and arbitrary internet shutdowns can be seen as human rights violations. They limit people’s ability to exercise their rights, stifle dissent, and undermine democratic processes.
  • Negative Impact on Education: Internet shutdowns disrupt online education, e-learning platforms, and access to educational resources. This hampers educational progress and has long-term consequences for individuals and societies.
  • Psychological and Emotional Impact: The inability to connect with others, access information, and engage in online activities can have psychological and emotional implications.

Justifications behind the frequent imposition of shutdowns

  • Maintaining Public Order: Internet shutdowns are often imposed as a measure to maintain public order and prevent the escalation of law and order situations.
  • Preventing the Spread of Misinformation: During times of crisis or unrest, shutting down the internet is seen as a way to prevent the rapid spread of misinformation and fake news. .
  • Curbing Organizational Activities: Shutdowns are also imposed to disrupt the organization and coordination of protests, demonstrations, or other activities perceived as a threat to public order.
  • Preserving Exam Integrity: Internet shutdowns may be implemented during examinations to prevent cheating. By restricting access to online resources, authorities aim to ensure the fairness and integrity of the examination process.

The two significant Supreme Court judgments related to internet shutdowns in India

  • Anuradha Bhasin v. Union of India (2020): Recognized the right to access the internet as part of the right to freedom of speech and expression. Emphasized that internet shutdowns must be necessary and proportionate, subject to judicial review.
  • Faheema Shirin v. State of Kerala (2020): Reaffirmed the importance of internet access for exercising fundamental rights. Stressed that restrictions on internet access should be temporary, proportionate, and justified with reasons

Way forward: Need for balance between maintaining public order and safeguarding the interests of internet-dependent individuals

  • Protecting Public Order: Maintaining public order is a legitimate concern for governments to ensure safety, security, and the functioning of society. Internet shutdowns may be employed in exceptional situations where there is a real and imminent threat to public safety or when it is necessary to prevent the spread of violence or unrest.
  • Proportionality: Any measure taken to maintain public order, including internet shutdowns, should be proportionate to the threat faced. Shutdowns should be targeted, time-limited, and precisely tailored to address the specific concerns, rather than imposing blanket restrictions that impact the entire population.
  • Judicial Oversight: Independent judicial oversight is crucial to ensuring that any restrictions on internet access align with constitutional principles and international human rights standards.
  • Transparency and Accountability: Governments should provide clear and transparent justifications for internet shutdowns, including detailing the specific risks or threats that justify such measures.  Accountability mechanisms should be in place to address any abuses or violations during shutdowns.
  • Targeted Measures: Rather than resorting to complete shutdowns, governments should explore alternative measures that target specific content or platforms that pose risks to public order. Content moderation, selective blocking, or targeted interventions can help address concerns without unduly infringing on individual rights or stifling access to essential services.

Conclusion

  • The impact of shutdowns on livelihoods, education, and the economy underscores the urgency to seek alternative solutions. It is imperative that stakeholders reconsider the necessity and consequences of internet shutdowns to ensure a just and balanced approach to maintaining law and order.

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Sedition Law in India: The Need for Repeal and Reform

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Section 124A, freedom of speech

Mains level: Sedition laws and concerns over the power orecment agencies

Sedition

Central Idea

  • French author Andre Gide’s statement, “Everything has been said before, but since nobody listens, we have to keep going back and beginning all over again,” aptly reflects the current state of the sedition debate in India. The 279th Law Commission Report, which upholds the sedition law, symbolizes the lack of attention paid to public opinion.

sedition

Historical Perspective of Sedition law

  • Section 124A of the IPC was introduced during the British Raj in 1870 to suppress dissent and protest against the colonial government.
  • The then British government in India feared that religious preachers on the Indian subcontinent would wage a war against the government.
    Particularly after the successful suppression of the Wahabi/Waliullah Movement by the British, the need was felt for such law.
  • Throughout the Raj, this section was used to suppress activists in favor of national independence, including Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, both of whom were found guilty and imprisoned

What is the ‘Tendency’ Jurisprudence?

  • The tendency jurisprudence refers to the legal concept or approach that considers the potential or inclination of an act to incite violence or disturb public order, rather than requiring evidence of actual violence or an imminent threat of violence.
  • In the context of sedition laws, it implies that expressions or actions that have a tendency to incite violence or promote hatred, contempt, or disaffection against the government can be penalized, regardless of whether they directly lead to public disorder.

Key points related to the ‘Tendency’ Jurisprudence

  • Ambiguity: The ‘tendency’ standard is often criticized for its ambiguity and lack of clarity. It allows for the inclusion of acts or expressions that may not have a direct causal connection with public disorder, making it difficult for judicial and executive bodies to interpret and apply consistently.
  • Loose Formulation: The ‘tendency’ standard is a loose formulation that can encompass a wide range of acts or expressions. It opens the possibility of penalizing speech or actions that may not pose an immediate threat but are perceived to have the potential to incite violence or disrupt public order in the future.
  • Judicial Challenges: The ‘tendency’ jurisprudence has been subject to legal challenges in various jurisdictions. Critics argue that it can be misused to suppress dissent, curtail freedom of expression, and stifle legitimate criticism of the government, as it broadens the scope of what can be considered seditious.
  • Pending Petitions: In the Indian context, there are currently nine petitions pending before the Supreme Court challenging the constitutionality of Section 124A (the sedition law). These petitions raise concerns about the ambiguity and potential misuse of the ‘tendency’ standard, highlighting the need for a clearer and more precise definition of sedition.
  • Relevance to Sedition Laws: The ‘tendency’ jurisprudence is significant in the context of sedition laws because it determines whether an act or expression falls within the purview of sedition. By assessing the inclination or potential of an act to incite violence or disrupt public order, authorities can decide whether to initiate sedition charges against individuals.
  • Need for Clarity: Critics argue that the ‘tendency’ standard lacks objective criteria and can be subject to interpretation and abuse. There is a demand for a more precise and narrowly defined standard that clearly distinguishes between protected speech and seditious activities to safeguard freedom of expression and prevent misuse of the law.

sedition

Concerns over the Power of the police in the enforcement of sedition laws

  • Investigation and Enquiry: The Law Commission’s recommendation that a police officer, holding the rank of an Inspector or higher, should conduct a “preliminary enquiry” before registering a First Information Report (FIR) in sedition cases. This suggests that the police are granted the power to determine whether an act or expression has the tendency to incite violence, even without proof of actual violence or imminent threat.
  • Ambiguous Standards: The proposed amendment to include the “tendency to incite violence” in sedition laws further adds ambiguity to the assessment of seditious acts. This gives police officers discretionary power to judge whether an act has an inclination towards violence, creating potential room for misuse or subjective interpretations.
  • Wide Net and Misuse: The are concerns that the proposed amendment and the broad discretion given to police officers could result in a wide net being cast, potentially encompassing acts that have no real connection to public disorder.
  • Political Influence: The police officers, especially when influenced by those with political clout at the local, state, or national level, may exercise their power selectively and target individuals or groups critical of the government. This can lead to a suppression of dissent and the abuse of police power for political purposes.

Disregard for Ground Realities

  • Invalidation of Sedition Laws: The Law Commission overlooks developments in other countries where sedition laws have been invalidated or repealed. It suggests that the Commission dismisses these developments by claiming that the “ground realities” in India are different.
  • High Number of Cases: India has witnessed a significant number of sedition cases filed against individuals for criticizing the government or engaging in harmless activities. It cites the example of 174 cases of sedition filed against nearly 950 individuals since 2010.
  • Confusion caused by Precedent: The confusion caused by the Kedar Nath Singh precedent is another aspect of ground realities that the Commission failed to address. The Supreme Court’s admission of multiple petitions challenging the constitutionality of Section 124A, based on the confusion stemming from the Kedar Nath Singh case, indicates the need for clarity and reform in the interpretation and application of sedition laws.
  • Impact on Freedom of Expression: The disregard for ground realities also encompasses the impact of sedition laws on freedom of expression and dissent. The Commission’s recommendation to retain sedition laws fails to consider the stifling effect these laws can have on individuals’ ability to question authority, engage in political criticism, or express dissenting views without fear of criminal repercussions

Way forward

  • Narrowing the Definition of Sedition: Refining and narrowing the definition of sedition can help prevent its misuse. The focus should be on acts or speech that directly incite violence or pose a genuine threat to the territorial integrity or sovereignty of the country.
  • Safeguarding Freedom of Speech: Safeguards should be put in place to protect individuals’ right to free speech and expression, while allowing for robust public debate and the peaceful expression of dissenting opinions.
  • Transparency and Accountability: Establish mechanisms to promote transparency and accountability in the application of sedition laws. This includes clear guidelines for law enforcement agencies, regular review of cases, and strict consequences for misuse of the law.
  • Public Awareness and Legal Education: Promote public awareness and legal education about the scope and limitations of the sedition law. This can help individuals understand their rights and responsibilities, empowering them to exercise their freedom of speech responsibly while avoiding unlawful acts.
  • Focus on Alternative Measures: Emphasize the use of alternative legal measures, such as laws related to defamation, incitement to violence, or hate speech, to address genuine threats to public order or national security. These laws should be effectively enforced to protect individuals without infringing upon their fundamental rights.

sedition

Conclusion

  • The Law Commission’s recommendations, which include vague standards and police empowerment, do not address the fundamental issues with the sedition law. Lingual changes and procedural reforms alone cannot rectify the deep-rooted problems associated with Section 124A. It is imperative to promote free speech, protect dissent, and foster accountability in a post-colonial democracy like India.

Also read:

Sedition Law: A Threat to Freedom of Expression in India

 

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Sedition Law: A Threat to Freedom of Expression in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Section 124A IPC, Freedom of Speech

Mains level: Ambiguity around the Sedition law, concerns and recommendations

sedition law

Central Idea

  • In its 279th Report, the Law Commission of India has recommended the retention of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, commonly known as the Law of Sedition, along with enhanced punishment for the offense in the name of national security.

What is Sedition?

The Section 124A defines sedition as:

  • An offence committed when “any person 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”.
  • Disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
  • However, comments without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, will not constitute an offense.
  • Sedition is a non-bailable offense.
  • Punishment under Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term with/without a fine

Historical Perspective

  • Section 124A of the IPC was introduced during the British Raj in 1870 to suppress dissent and protest against the colonial government.
  • The then British government in India feared that religious preachers on the Indian subcontinent would wage a war against the government.
  • Particularly after the successful suppression of the Wahabi/Waliullah Movement by the British, the need was felt for such law.
  • Throughout the Raj, this section was used to suppress activists in favor of national independence, including Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, both of whom were found guilty and imprisoned.

Two notable interpretations which added to the ambiguity surrounding the sedition law

  1. Queen Empress vs Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1897)
  • In this case, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, a prominent freedom fighter, was charged with sedition for writing articles in a Marathi weekly called Kesari that invoked Shivaji and were seen as inciting disaffection towards the British government.
  • The court held that sedition encompassed the act of exciting disaffection towards the government, even if it did not incite rebellion or violence.
  • This interpretation broadened the scope of the offense to include political hatred of the government.
  1. Niharendu Dutt Majumdar And Ors. vs Emperor (1942): Federal Court.
  • The court acquitted the accused, and Chief Justice Sir Maurice Gwyer explained that the essence of sedition lies in public disorder or the reasonable anticipation thereof.
  • According to this interpretation, sedition would be committed only when there is incitement to violence or disorder.

Constitutionality of Sedition

  • Violation of Freedom of Speech and Expression: The sedition law, as defined in Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, infringes upon the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. It criminalizes acts that bring hatred, contempt, or disaffection towards the government, which curtails the citizens’ ability to express their political dissent and discontent.
  • Democratic Principles: Disaffection towards a government, which is subject to change through the electoral process, cannot be treated as a criminal offense. The sedition law restricts the democratic principles of public debate, dissent, and accountability.
  • Omission from the Constitution: During the drafting of the Indian Constitution, the Constituent Assembly deliberately excluded sedition as a reasonable restriction on the freedom of speech and expression. This omission signifies the Assembly’s intent to safeguard the citizens’ right to express their opinions, including dissenting views on the government.
  • Ambiguity and Misuse: The broad wording and lack of precise definition allow for arbitrary interpretations, leading to the stifling of legitimate dissent and the targeting of individuals or groups critical of the government. This misuse undermines the rule of law and constitutional protections.
  • Chilling Effect on Free Speech: The existence of a sedition law creates a chilling effect on free speech and expression. The fear of potential sedition charges discourages individuals from openly expressing their opinions and engaging in robust public discourse, inhibiting the free flow of ideas and opinions necessary for a healthy democracy.
  • Conflict with International Standards: International bodies such as the United Nations Human Rights Committee have consistently expressed concerns about the misuse of sedition laws and called for their repeal or amendment to align with international human rights standards.

sedition law

Inconsistencies regarding the sedition law in India

  • Interpretational Inconsistencies: The Tilak case (1897) interpreted sedition as exciting disaffection towards the government, even without inciting violence or rebellion. However, the Majumdar case (1942) acquitted the accused by emphasizing that sedition requires a tendency to incite violence or disorder.
  • Varying Judicial Approaches: The Supreme Court’s approach in the Kedarnath case (1962) further adds to the inconsistencies. While the Court upheld the constitutionality of the sedition law, it narrowed its application to only acts that incite violence. The Court’s attempt to retain sedition despite acknowledging its exclusion from the draft Constitution and concerns over its severity creates a contradictory stance.
  • Lack of Clarity in Statutory Language: The language of Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which defines sedition, lacks precision and clarity. The vague terms such as hatred, contempt, and disaffection make it susceptible to subjective interpretations and misuse by law enforcement authorities. This lack of clarity contributes to the inconsistent application of the sedition law.
  • Conflict with Constitutional Principles: The sedition law, as it stands, conflicts with constitutional principles, particularly the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution. The broad interpretation of sedition and its criminalization of political dissent and disaffection towards the government infringe upon citizens’ constitutional rights.
  • Disparity with International Standards: International bodies, including the United Nations Human Rights Committee, have expressed concerns about the misuse of sedition laws and recommended their repeal or amendment to align with international human rights norms. This disparity highlights the inconsistencies between the sedition law in India and global standards.

Way ahead: Recommendations to strike a balance

  • Repeal or Substantial Reform: Given the inconsistencies, ambiguity, and potential for misuse, there is a strong case for the repeal or substantial reform of the sedition law. This could involve narrowing the scope of the offense, clarifying the language, and aligning it with constitutional principles and international human rights standards.
  • Precise Definition: The sedition law should be defined more precisely to avoid ambiguity and subjective interpretations. A clear and specific definition would help establish the boundaries of the offense, ensuring that it is not misused to suppress legitimate dissent or criticism.
  • Balancing National Security and Freedom of Expression: Any reform or amendment to the sedition law should strike a balance between protecting national security and safeguarding freedom of expression. This can be achieved by focusing on acts that pose a genuine threat to public order, incite violence, or endanger the integrity of the state while ensuring that peaceful dissent and criticism are not stifled.
  • Judicial Clarity: The judiciary should provide consistent and well-defined guidelines for the interpretation and application of the sedition law. Clear guidelines would help prevent arbitrary enforcement and provide greater clarity on the limits of the offense.
  • Safeguards and Procedural Reforms: Implementing safeguards and procedural reforms can help prevent the misuse of the sedition law. This may include requiring higher standards of evidence, ensuring transparency and accountability in investigations and prosecutions, and providing avenues for redress in cases of wrongful or frivolous charges.
  • Public Awareness and Sensitization: There is a need for public awareness campaigns and sensitization programs to educate citizens, law enforcement authorities, and the judiciary about the nuances of freedom of expression and the potential pitfalls of the sedition law.
  • International Dialogue and Learning: Engaging in international dialogue and learning from best practices can provide valuable insights for reforming the sedition law. Studying the experiences of other democratic countries and considering international human rights standards can help shape more effective and rights-respecting legislation.

Conclusion

  • The interpretation and application of Section 124A have been inconsistent, leading to misuses and abuses by law enforcement authorities. The Law Commission’s recent recommendations for enhancing punishment and incorporating the tendency to incite disorder fail to address the core issue of the law’s unconstitutionality. It is imperative to reevaluate and repeal the sedition law to protect and uphold the democratic values of free speech and expression in India.

Also read:

Sedition Law in India

 

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Sedition Law in India

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Section 124A IPC, Freedom of Speech

Mains level: Evolving nature of sedition and concerns

Central Idea

  • In a recent development, the Lahore High Court in Pakistan annulled the offence of sedition in their penal code, raising questions about India’s similar provision under Section 124A. While a challenge to this law is pending before the Indian Supreme Court, the underlying logic of sedition persists and has found its way into various provisions that criminalize speech.

What is Sedition?

  • The Section 124A defines sedition as, an offence committed when any person 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.
  • Disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. However, comments without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, will not constitute an offense.
  • Sedition is a non-bailable offense. Punishment under Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term with/without a fine.
  • Sedition was made a cognizable offense for the first time in history in India during the tenure of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1973, that is, arrest without a warrant was now permissible.

How the offensive speech reinforces existing social hierarchies and inequality?

  • Reinforcing Dominant Narratives: Offensive speech often aligns with the dominant narratives propagated by those in power. It reinforces and upholds the existing social order by validating and amplifying the perspectives and ideologies of the privileged groups.
  • Perpetuating Stereotypes and Prejudices: Offensive speech often relies on stereotypes and prejudices that are deeply rooted in social hierarchies. By perpetuating these stereotypes, offensive speech reinforces the existing inequalities and discriminates against individuals based on their identities, such as caste, race, gender, religion, or socioeconomic status.
  • Suppressing Dissent and Alternative Voices: Offensive speech can be used as a tool to suppress dissent and alternative viewpoints. It creates an environment of fear and intimidation, discouraging individuals from challenging the status quo or speaking out against injustice.
  • Creating Emotional and Psychological Harm: Offensive speech reinforces negative self-perceptions, perpetuates feelings of inferiority, and reinforces internalized oppression. This can lead to a lack of confidence, self-censorship, and a reluctance to participate in public discourse, further perpetuating existing social hierarchies.
  • Unequal Consequences and Legal Frameworks: Offensive speech often faces unequal consequences based on the social position of the speaker and the target. Marginalized individuals are more likely to face severe repercussions for their speech, while privileged individuals often enjoy greater impunity.

How entrenched Hierarchies manifest in the law in India?

  • Caste-Based Discrimination: The deeply rooted caste system in India influences the legal framework. Despite constitutional safeguards and affirmative action policies, lower-caste individuals continue to face discrimination and marginalization.
  • Unequal Access to Justice: Marginalized communities, including lower castes, tribal communities, and economically disadvantaged groups, often encounter barriers in accessing justice. Limited legal awareness, inadequate legal aid services, and bias within the judiciary can result in unequal access to justice.
  • Discriminatory Laws and Practices: Personal laws based on religious or customary practices can reinforce gender inequality and restrict the rights of women. Similarly, laws related to land ownership, inheritance, and labor rights may disproportionately affect marginalized communities, reinforcing existing social disparities.
  • Limited Representation and Diversity: The underrepresentation of individuals from lower castes, tribal backgrounds, and other marginalized groups in positions of power within the legal system can lead to biases and insensitivity towards their concerns and needs. This lack of diversity can perpetuate hierarchical power structures and hinder efforts to address social inequalities.
  • Selective Enforcement and Impunity: The enforcement of laws in India can be selective, leading to unequal treatment based on social, economic, or political factors. Marginalized communities may experience higher rates of arrests, police brutality, and arbitrary detention. Meanwhile, individuals with social and economic power may enjoy impunity for their actions, perpetuating social hierarchies within the legal system.

Facts for prelims

Case Key Points
Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, 1962 – Upheld the constitutionality of Section 124A (sedition) of the IPC. – Clarified that criticism of the government without incitement to violence is not sedition.
Balwant Singh v. State of Punjab, 1995 – Stated that sedition requires a clear intention to incite violence or public disorder. – Holding opinions or raising slogans against the government without violent intent is not sedition.
Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, 2015 – Struck down Section 66A of the IT Act, which criminalized offensive online speech. – Emphasized the importance of protecting freedom of speech in the digital age.
Common Cause v. Union of India, 2016 – Expressed concerns about the misuse of sedition laws. – Called for a narrow and precise interpretation of the offense.
Maneka Gandhi case, 1978 – Expanded the interpretation of the right to personal liberty and due process under Article 21 of the Constitution. – Emphasized that laws must be reasonable, fair, and just.
Vinit Kumar v. CBI, 2019 – Reiterated that criticism of the government, unless inciting violence, does not amount to sedition. – Emphasized the need to prevent the misuse of sedition laws.

Evolving nature of the interpretation and application of sedition laws

  • Striking Down Sedition Laws: In recent years, there have been calls to strike down or reform sedition laws, questioning their compatibility with democratic principles and the right to free expression. The Lahore High Court’s decision to annul the offence of sedition in Pakistan’s penal code exemplifies this growing debate.
  • Constitutional Challenges: The Supreme Court of India has examined the validity and scope of Section 124A in several cases. While the law may remain in abeyance without being formally struck down, these constitutional challenges create an opportunity to redefine the boundaries of sedition and ensure its alignment with constitutional principles.
  • Expansion of Speech Offenses: The logic of sedition has extended beyond the specific offense itself and transplanted into other provisions of law that criminalize speech. In the Indian context, laws that criminalize hurting religious sentiments or sentiments of particular communities share similarities with sedition.
  • Chilling Effect on Freedom of Speech: The fear of prosecution and the potential consequences, such as arrests, imprisonment, or social repercussions, may lead individuals to self-censor or refrain from expressing dissenting opinions.
  • Judicial Pronouncements: Judicial pronouncements play a crucial role in shaping the mutating logic of sedition. Courts have an opportunity to interpret and apply sedition laws in a manner that upholds freedom of speech, safeguards democratic values, and ensures a reasonable balance between the state’s legitimate interests and citizens fundamental rights.
  • For example: Recent judgment such as the Media One case have emphasized the importance of protecting freedom of speech, criticizing the misuse of sedition for curbing dissent and censoring speech.

Way forward

  • Narrowing the Definition of Sedition: Refining and narrowing the definition of sedition can help prevent its misuse. The focus should be on acts or speech that directly incite violence or pose a genuine threat to the territorial integrity or sovereignty of the country. This would help avoid undue restrictions on dissent and criticism of the government.
  • Safeguarding Freedom of Speech: It is crucial to ensure that the sedition law is not misused as a tool to suppress legitimate criticism, dissent, or peaceful protests. Safeguards should be put in place to protect individuals’ right to free speech and expression, while allowing for robust public debate and the peaceful expression of dissenting opinions.
  • Transparency and Accountability: Establish mechanisms to promote transparency and accountability in the application of sedition laws. This includes clear guidelines for law enforcement agencies, regular review of cases, and strict consequences for misuse of the law. Proper oversight and monitoring can help prevent arbitrary arrests and protect individuals from wrongful prosecution.
  • Public Awareness and Legal Education: Promote public awareness and legal education about the scope and limitations of the sedition law. This can help individuals understand their rights and responsibilities, empowering them to exercise their freedom of speech responsibly while avoiding unlawful acts.
  • Focus on Alternative Measures: Emphasize the use of alternative legal measures, such as laws related to defamation, incitement to violence, or hate speech, to address genuine threats to public order or national security. These laws should be effectively enforced to protect individuals without infringing upon their fundamental rights.

Conclusion

  • Beyond the formal striking down of Section 124A, it is essential to address the underlying logic of sedition and its influence on various provisions that curtail freedom of speech. Recognizing the entangled relationship between law and society, and the hierarchical power dynamics that shape the prosecution of speech offenses, is paramount in safeguarding democratic values and upholding freedom of expression.

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Re-examination of Sedition Law in motion: Govt informs SC

 

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Freedom of Speech the ‘Bulwark’ of Democracy: Andhra HC

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Right to Assemble, Article 19

Mains level: Read the attached story

Central Idea: The Andhra Pradesh High Court has overturned a Government Order (GO) issued by the state government that aimed to regulate public meetings, processions, and assemblies on roads.

Key takeaways of the ruling

  • The court held that the right to assemble, protest peacefully, and express one’s opinion freely was a precious freedom.
  • It emphasized that this freedom should not be curtailed based on unproven assertions made by government officials.
  • The court reiterated that freedom of speech was considered the foremost among liberties and was crucial for democracy.
  • It stated that such a precious freedom should not be left to the unrestricted discretion of any individual.

AP move regulating Public Assembly

  • The GO sought to regulate public meetings and assemblies on roads, roadsides, and margins.
  • The state government argued that the regulations were necessary to address fatal accidents and ensure smooth traffic flow.
  • Sections 30, 30A, and 31 of the Police Act, 1861 were cited as the basis for the directions under the GO.

High Court’s decision and reasoning

  • The court set aside the GO, ruling that it imposed a ban on all meetings on public highways and roads.
  • It stated that accidents or incidents at specific locations should not result in a total restriction on the right to assemble or conduct processions on other roads.
  • The court suggested studying the causes of incidents and issuing guidelines to prevent their recurrence rather than imposing broad restrictions.

Upholding the Right to Assembly

  • The court asserted that the right to assemble, protest peacefully, and express opinions freely is a fundamental freedom that cannot be curtailed arbitrarily.
  • Freedom of speech is regarded as a crucial pillar of democracy and must not be subject to unfettered discretion.
  • The court deemed the power conferred by the GO as excessive, arbitrary, and failing the test of proportionality.

Reference: 2018 SC Ruling on Peaceful Assembly

  • The court referred to the guidelines laid down in the Supreme Court’s ruling in “Mazdoor Kisan Shakti Sangathan v Union of India (2018).”
  • The guidelines regulate protests and demonstrations, recognizing the right to peaceful assembly while allowing reasonable restrictions.
  • The ruling includes provisions on the number of participants, minimum distances from important locations, and restrictions during visits by foreign dignitaries.

Back2Basics: Right to Assemble

  • The right to assemble in India refers to the fundamental right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(b) of the Constitution of India.
  • It grants individuals the freedom to peacefully assemble, protest, and hold public meetings or processions.
  • This right allows citizens to come together to express their views, opinions, and grievances collectively in a public setting.
  • It is an essential aspect of democracy, enabling citizens to engage in peaceful activism, raise awareness about social issues, and participate in public discourse.
  • However, reasonable restrictions can be imposed on this right in the interest of public order, morality, and the sovereignty and integrity of India.

 

 

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

India drops 11 places to rank 161 in World Press Freedom Index

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: World Press Freedom Index

Mains level: Freedom of press in India and global propaganda

Central Idea: India’s ranking in the 2023 World Press Freedom Index has slipped to 161 out of 180 countries, according to the latest report released by global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

What is Press Freedom Index?

  • The PFI is an annual ranking of countries compiled and published by Reporters without Borders since 2002.
  • It is based upon the organisation’s own assessment of the countries’ press freedom records in the previous year.
  • It defines press freedom as “the ability of journalists as individuals and collectives to select, produce, and disseminate news in the public interest independent of political, economic, legal, and social interference and in the absence of threats to their physical and mental safety.”
  • It intends to reflect the degree of freedom that journalists, news organisations, and netizens have in each country, and the efforts made by authorities to respect this freedom.
  • It does not measure the quality of journalism in the countries it assesses, nor does it look at human rights violations in general.

 Irony of the rankings

  • In 2022, India was ranked at 150.
  • Pakistan has fared better when it comes to media freedom as it was placed at 150, an improvement from last year’s 157th rank.
  • Afghanistan was ranked 152nd. This raises some questions about the methodology of the index.

Global scenario

  • Sri Lanka also made significant improvement on the index, ranking 135th this year as against 146th in 2022
  • Norway, Ireland and Denmark occupied the top three positions in press freedom, while Vietnam, China and North Korea constituted the bottom three.

Back2Basics: Freedom of Press and Constitutional Provisions

  • The Supreme Court in Romesh Thappar v. the State of Madras, 1950 observed that freedom of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations.
  • It is guaranteed under the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, which deals with ‘Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.
  • Freedom of the press is not expressly protected by the Indian legal system but it is impliedly protected under article 19(1) (a) of the constitution.
  • The freedom of the press is also not absolute.

Reasonable restrictions

  • A law could impose only those restrictions on the exercise of this right, it faces certain restrictions under Article 19(2), which are as follows:
  1. Sovereignty and integrity of India
  2. Security of the State,
  3. Friendly relations with foreign States
  4. Public order, decency or morality
  5. Contempt of court
  6. Defamation
  7. Incitement to an offence

 

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Re-examination of Sedition Law in motion: Govt informs SC

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Section 124A IPC, Freedom of Speech

Mains level: Read the attached story

Central idea: The Centre has informed Supreme Court that it has initiated the “process of re-examination” of Section 124A (sedition) of the Indian Penal Code and consultations are in its “final stage”.

What is the Sedition Law?

  • Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code lays down the punishment for sedition. The IPC was enacted in 1860, under the British Raj.
  • The then British government in India feared that religious preachers on the Indian subcontinent would wage a war against the government.
  • Particularly after the successful suppression of the Wahabi/Waliullah Movement by the British, the need was felt for such law.
  • Throughout the Raj, this section was used to suppress activists in favor of national independence, including Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi, both of whom were found guilty and imprisoned.

Do you know?

Queen-Empress v. Bal Gangadhar Tilak (1897) was the first case in which Section 124A was defined and applied. Again in 1908, when Tilak was tried under same section, then young barrister and a staunch protagonist Mohammed Ali Jinnah defended Tilak.

What is Sedition?

  • The Section 124A defines sedition as:

An offence committed when “any person 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”.

  • Disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
  • However, comments without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, will not constitute an offense.
  • Sedition is a non-bailable offense.
  • Punishment under Section 124A ranges from imprisonment up to three years to a life term with/without a fine.

Sedition as a cognizable offense

  • Sedition was made a cognizable offense for the first time in history in India during the tenure of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in 1973, that is, arrest without a warrant was now permissible.
  • In 1962 the Supreme Court of India interpreted the section to apply only if there is, say, “incitement to violence” or “overthrowing a democratically elected government through violent means”.

Is it constitutionally valid?

  • Violative of FRs: Two high courts had found it unconstitutional after Independence, as it violated the freedom of speech and expression.
  • Reasonable restrictions: The Constitution was amended to include ‘public order’ as one of the ‘reasonable restrictions’ on which free speech could be abridged by law.
  • Kedar Nath Case: Thereafter, the Supreme Court, in Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962) upheld its validity.
  • Limited use: At the same time, it limited its application to acts that involve “intention or tendency to create disorder” or incitement to violence.
  • Strong criticism doesn’t amount to sedition: Thus, even strongly worded remarks, as long as they do not excite disloyalty and enmity, or incite violence, are not an offence under this section.

sedition

Why the controversy now?

  • Frequent use: In recent times, the resort to this section is seen as disturbingly frequent.
  • Curbing dissent: Activists, cartoonists and intellectuals have been arrested under this section, drawing criticism from liberals that it is being used to suppress dissent and silence critics.
  • Misuse for propaganda: Authorities and the police who invoke this section defend the measure as a necessary step to prevent public disorder and anti-national activities.
  • Irrelevance: Many of them have also been detained under the National Security Act and UAPA.

What is being debated about it?

  • Demand for its scrapping: Liberals and rights activists have been demanding the scrapping of Section 124A.
  • Provision is outdated: It is argued that the provision is “overbroad”, i.e., it defines the offence in wide terms threatening the liberty of citizens.
  • Various calls for its reconsideration: The Law Commission has also called for a reconsideration of the section.
  • Tyranny of the law: It has pointed that Britain abolished it more than a decade ago and raised the question of whether a provision introduced by the British to put down the freedom struggle should continue to be law in India.
  • Doctrine of severability: Some argue that a presumption of constitutionality does not apply to pre-constitutional laws as those laws have been made by foreign legislature or bodies.

Need for such law

  • There are some tendencies exist even today who wish to overthrow the state apparatus and constitutional scheme of India.
  • It falls on the judiciary to protect Articles 19 and Article 21 of the Constitution.
  • Undue exercise of free speech has led to overture of ordinary dissent into an anti-national insurrection or uprising.
  • There are areas in the country that face hostile activities and insurgencies created by rebel groups, like the Maoists.
  • There must be restrictions on expressing unnecessary contempt or ridiculing of the Government beyond certain limits.

Way forward

  • India is the largest democracy in the world and the right to free speech and expression is an essential ingredient of democracy.
  • The sedition law should not be abolished as some measures are needed to check communal violence & insurgency activities like Naxals.
  • The definition of sedition should be narrowed down, to include only the issues pertaining to the territorial integrity of India as well as the sovereignty of the country.
  • Section 124A should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech.

 

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Principles of Natural Justice and Proportionality

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Natural Justice, Proportionality

Mains level: Freedom of press

justice

Central idea

  • The Supreme Court lifted a broadcasting ban on a Malayalam news channel ‘MediaOne’.
  • The court blasted the government for silencing voices in the media who “speak truth to power” by branding them as “anti-establishment”.

A quick recap of the case

  • The Ministry of Information and Broadcasting (MIB) has earlier refused to renew broadcast license of a Malayalam news channel.
  • The Ministry of Home Affairs had declined to grant security clearance to the channel’s promoters citing alleged links between radical groups.
  • Hence the news agency approached Kerala High Court, which upheld the ban on February 9, 2022
  • The Supreme Court granted temporary relief and allowed it to resume operations.

Supreme Court’s ruling

  • The Supreme Court set aside earlier ban orders and upheld the channel’s appeal on two procedural grounds, namely
  1. Principles of natural justice and
  2. Proportionality

Articles invoked in the judgment

  • The Court stated that the burden shifts on the Centre to prove that the procedure followed was reasonable and in compliance with the requirements of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution.
  • The Court used the standard of proportionality to test the reasonableness of the procedure in the present case and assessed the validity of public interest immunity claims based on the “structured proportionality standard”.
  • The Court found that the reasons for denying security clearance to the channel were not legitimate purposes for the restriction of the right of freedom of speech protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution.

Key concepts involved

(1) Principles of natural justice

  • The principles of natural justice are a set of procedural rules that ensure fairness and justice in administrative and legal proceedings.
  • These principles are based on the fundamental idea that everyone is entitled to a fair hearing, and they are aimed at preventing arbitrary or biased decisions by decision-makers.
  • The SC bench allowed the challenge to the MHA order and judgment of the High Court on account of the principles of natural justice constitutionalized by its judgment in its 1978 ruling in “Maneka Gandhi vs Union of India”
  • Actions which violate procedural guarantees can be struck down even if non-compliance does not prejudice the outcome of the case.

(2) Proportionality

  • The principle requires that the decision or action must be proportionate to the objective it seeks to achieve.
  • In other words, the means employed to achieve the objective must be no more than necessary to achieve it, and the harm caused by the decision or action must not be excessive in relation to the benefit gained.
  • The validity of the claim of involvement of national security considerations must be assessed on the test of whether there is material to conclude that the non-disclosure of information is in the interest of national security.
  • Courts can assess the validity of public interest immunity claims based on the “structured proportionality standard”, said the SC.
  • The SC observed that sealed cover proceedings infringe the principles natural justice and open justice.

Conclusion

  • The Court’s ruling has been welcomed by media organizations and civil society groups as a victory for freedom of speech and expression
  • The Court observed that the duty to act fairly derived from common law is not exhaustively defined in a set of concrete principles, and the concept of natural justice “cannot be put into a ‘straitjacket formula’.
  • The ruling has been hailed as a victory for freedom of speech and expression, and a blow to attempts to stifle dissent and critical voices in the media.

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Section 153A: its use and misuse

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Section 153A of IPC

Mains level: Free speech and defamation

153

Central idea: A politician was recently arrested under Section 153A of IPC for the alleged use of objectionable words against the Prime Minister.

Section 153A: What the law says

  • Section 153A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) penalises “promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony”.
  • This is punishable with imprisonment up to three years, or with fine, or with both.
  • The provision was enacted in 1898 and was not in the original penal code.
  • At the time of the amendment, promoting class hatred was a part of the English law of sedition, but was not included in the Indian law.

Charges laid for remarks against PM

The FIR mentioned the use of Sections-

  • 153B(1) (Making imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration);
  • 295A (Deliberate and malicious acts, intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs);
  • 500 (Defamation); and
  • 504 (Intentional insult with intent to provoke breach of the peace).

Conviction rates under Section 153A

  • Data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) show that the rate of conviction for Section 153A is very low.
  • In 2020, 1,804 cases were registered, six times higher than the 323 cases in 2014.
  • However, the conviction rate in 2020 was 20.2%, suggesting that the process often becomes the punishment.

Issues with the law

  • Hate speech laws have been invoked under regimes of all parties to crack down on criticism of public functionaries and to arrest individuals.
  • The invocation of Section 153A is often criticized for restricting free speech and misusing the legal processes for political purposes.

Safeguards against misuse

  • Given that the provisions are worded broadly, there are safeguards against its misuse.
  • For example, Sections 153A and 153B require prior sanction from the government for initiating prosecution.
  • But this is required before the trial begins, and not at the stage of preliminary investigation.
  • To curb indiscriminate arrests, the Supreme Court laid down a set of guidelines in its 2014 ruling in Arnesh Kumar v State of Bihar.
  • As per the guidelines, for offenses that carry a sentence of fewer than seven years, the police cannot automatically arrest an accused before investigation.

 

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Disclosure of Journalistic Sources by Press

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Article 19

Mains level: Freedom of press

press

While rejecting a closure report filed by the CBI, a Delhi court said there is “no statutory exemption in India to journalists from disclosing their sources to investigating agencies”.

What is the news?

  • The CBI had sought to close its investigation on how certain news channels and a newspaper had aired and published reports related to a disproportionate assets case against a leader.
  • It had argued that the “documents used by the news channel were forged” but it could not be established who forged the documents.
  • This certainly amounts to creation of fake news.

Legal protection for disclosure of Journalistic Sources

Ans. Freedom of Speech and Expression under Article 19

  • In India, there is no specific legislation that protects journalists from being asked to disclose their sources.
  • Article 19 of the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of speech and expression to all citizens.
  • Investigative agencies can issue notice to anyone, including journalists, to provide information.
  • Like any citizen, a journalist can be compelled to give evidence in Court.
  • If she does not comply, the journalist can face charges of Contempt of Court.

Freedom of Press

  • The fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19 includes press freedom.
  • This covers an entire process from newsgathering, editorial judgement, publication and distribution of printed matter.
  • Press freedom covers all four stages.

 What have courts said on this issue?

  • While the Supreme Court broadly recognises the freedom of the press, including the right of journalists to ensure the protection of their sources, various courts have ruled differently on this issue.
  • In the Pegasus spyware case (2021), the Court underlined that the protection of journalistic sources is one of the basic conditions for the freedom of the press.
  • In 2019, the Supreme Court in a review petition in the Rafale case overruled the Centre’s objections on the petitioner’s claims since they relied on purportedly “stolen” confidential documents.

Is there any legal enforcement?

Ans. No

  • Courts have in “public interest asked journalists to disclose their sources. In the absence of a specific law, it is often the discretion of a Court.
  • Under the Press Council of India (PCI) Act, of 1978, the Press Council has powers of a civil court to deal with complaints when a newspaper has “offended against the standards of journalistic ethics.”
  • However, the Council cannot force a newspaper, news agency, journalist, or editor to reveal their sources during the proceedings.
  • The Whistleblower Protection Act, 2014 offers protection to people disclosing acts of corruption, wilful misuse of power, or criminal offences by public servants, in public interest.

Recommendations for a change in law

Ans. Recognition under Indian Evidence Act

  • The Law Commission of India in its 93rd Report in 1983 recommended recognising journalistic privilege by amending the Indian Evidence Act.
  • In its 185th report on the amendments to the Evidence Act, the Law Commission again suggested this amendment.

Position in other countries

  • United Kingdom: The Contempt of Courts Act 1981 creates a presumption in favour of journalists who want to protect the identity of their sources. However, that right is subject to certain conditions in the “interest of justice”.
  • United States: Although the First Amendment guaranteeing free speech in the United States specifically mentions the press, the Supreme Court has held that journalists do not have the right to refuse to testify in a federal grand jury proceeding and disclose sources.
  • Sweden: The Freedom of the Press Act in Sweden is a broad protection of rights of journalists and even extends to state and municipal employees who might share information with journalists freely. In fact, a journalist who reveals his or her source without consent may be prosecuted at the behest of the source.
  • France and Germany: Journalists can refuse to disclose sources in an investigation.

Need for non-disclosure

  • Debated issue: The right of journalists to use and protect confidential sources is a debated topic.
  • Vitality of larger public interest: Many journalists say that confidential sources are an essential tool in the search to uncover information of great public interest.
  • Prevent oppression: It is a reporter’s need and duty to protect the identity of the source of his information or else vital information of concern to the people in a democracy would be suppressed.

Why are we discussing this?

  • Media malpractices are on rise: When the public interest is compelling and the disclosure outweighs the public interest then the sources can be revealed.
  • Serious allegations and media trial: The court can also require disclosure of the source of the news relates to a public office or public official and serious allegations have been made against him.
  • Defamation by media: Also if there is a defamatory article against a person then the Court may compel the journalist to reveal his source.

Why media needs protection for sources?

Where source protection is compromised, the impacts can include:

  • Pre-publication exposure of journalistic investigations may trigger cover-ups, intimidation, or destruction of information,
  • Revelation of sources’ identities has legal or extra-legal repercussions,
  • Sources of information running dry,
  • Self-censorship by journalists and citizens.

Conclusion

  • Indian law on source disclosure is limited and has mostly been determined by courts on a case-by-case basis.

 

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Hate speech a menace, buck stops at Centre: SC

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Freedom of speech and reasonable restrictions

Mains level: Free speech vs. Hate speech

hate speech

The Supreme Court has said the “buck ultimately stops with the government” to clamp down on hate speech and hate crimes, as they are offenses committed on society.

What is ‘Hate Speech’?

  • There is no specific legal definition of ‘hate speech’.
  • The Law Commission of India, in its 267th Report, says: “Hate speech generally is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief and the like
  • Thus, hate speech is any word written or spoken, signs, visible representations within the hearing or sight of a person with the intention to cause fear or alarm, or incitement to violence.”
  • In general, hate speech is considered a limitation on free speech that seeks to prevent or bar speech that exposes a person or a group or section of society to hate, violence, ridicule or indignity.

Attributes of Hate Speech

Hate Speech has three important attributes:

  1. Hate speech can be conveyed through any form of expression, including images, cartoons, memes, objects, gestures and symbols and it can be disseminated offline or online.
  2. Hate speech is “discriminatory” (biased, bigoted or intolerant) or “pejorative” (prejudiced, contemptuous or demeaning) of an individual or group.
  3. Hate speech calls out real or perceived “identity factors” of an individual or a group, including: “religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender,” but also characteristics such as language, economic or social origin, disability, health status, or sexual orientation, among many others.

How is it treated in Indian law?

  • Provisions in law criminalize speeches, writings, actions, signs and representations that foment violence and spread disharmony between communities and groups and these are understood to refer to ‘hate speech’.
  • Sections 153A and 505 of the Indian Penal Code are generally taken to be the main penal provisions that deal with inflammatory speeches and expressions that seek to punish ‘hate speech’.

[I] Section 153A:

  • Promotion of enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony’, is an offence punishable with three years’ imprisonment.

[II] Section 505:

  • 505(1): Statements conducing to public mischief– The statement, publication, report or rumour that is penalized under Section 505(1) should be one that promotes mutiny by the armed forces, or causes such fear or alarm that people are induced to commit an offence against the state or public tranquillity. This attracts a jail term of up to three years.
  • 505(2): It is an offence to make statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes.
  • 505(3): Same offence will attract up to a five-year jail term if it takes place in a place of worship, or in any assembly engaged in religious worship or religious ceremonies.

Some Supreme Court Judgements

1.Rangila Rasool case

  • Rangila Rasool was a tract brought out by a Hindu publisher — that had made disparaging remarks about the Prophet’s private life.
  • Cases against the first pamphlet, filed under Section 153A, were dismissed by the Punjab and Haryana High Court, which examined the question whether targeting religious figures is different from targeting religions.
  • This debate in interpretation prompted the colonial government to enact Section 295A with a wider scope to address these issues.

2. Ramji Lal Modi v State of Uttar Pradesh

  • The constitutionality of Section 295A was challenged.
  • The Supreme Court upheld the law on the grounds that it was brought in to preserve “public order”.
  • Public order is an exemption to the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression and the right to religion recognised by the Constitution.

3. Ramlal Puri v State of Madhya Pradesh

  • In 1973, the Supreme Court said the test to be applied is whether the speech in question offends the “ordinary man of common sense” and not the “hypersensitive man”.
  • However, these determinations are made by the court and the distinction can often be vague and vary from one judge to the other.

4.Baragur Ramachandrappa v State of Karnataka:

  • A 2007 decision of the Supreme Court, “a pragmatic approach” was invoked in interpreting Section 295A.
  • The state government had issued a notification banning Dharmakaarana, a Kannada novel on the ground that it was hate speech, invoking a gamut of provisions including Section 295A.

Why curb hate speeches?

  • Creates social divide: Individuals believe in stereotypes that are ingrained in their minds and these stereotypes lead them to believe that a class or group of persons are inferior to them and as such cannot have the same rights as them.
  • Threat to peaceful co-existence: The stubbornness to stick to a particular ideology without caring for the right to co-exist peacefully adds further fuel to the fire of hate speech.

Issues in regulating hate speech

  • Powers to State: Almost every regulation of speech, no matter how well-intentioned, increases the power of the state.
  • Hate speeches are Political: The issue is fundamentally political and we should not pretend that fine legal distinctions will solve the issue.
  • Legal complications: An over-reliance on legal instruments to solve fundamental social and political problems often backfires.
  • Misuse of Laws: Lower conviction rates for these provisions indicate that the process where a police officer can arrest without a warrant is often the punishment.
  • Violation of free speech: Critics have pointed out that these laws are intended for the state to step in and restore “public order” rather than protect free speech.
  • Vague terms in the law: The broad, vague terms in the laws are often invoked in its misuse.
  • Old-aged Laws: Section 295A lie in the communally charged atmosphere of North India in the 1920s.

Suggestions made by Law Commission

In its 267th report, the Law Commission of India proposed including the following two provisions:

  • Section 153C covers crimes committed when someone threatens someone with remarks meant to incite fear, hatred, or violence based on someone’s race, caste, religion, sex, gender identity, or other characteristics.
  • Section 505A should be included and have provisions that make inciting fear, alarm, or violence a crime.

Suggestions for Changes in IPC:

Viswanathan Committee 2019:

  • It proposed inserting Sections 153 C (b) and Section 505 A in the IPC for incitement to commit an offence on grounds of religion, race, caste or community, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, place of birth, residence, language, disability or tribe.
  • It proposed punishment of up to two years along with Rs. 5,000 fine.

Bezbaruah Committee 2014:

  • It proposed amendment to Section 153 C IPC (promoting or attempting to promote acts prejudicial to human dignity), punishable by five years and fine or both and Section 509 A IPC (word, gesture or act intended to insult member of a particular race), punishable by three years or fine or both.

Way forward

  • Subjects like hate speeches become a complex issue to deal with, in a country like India which is very diverse, as it was very difficult to differentiate between free and hate speech.
  • There are many factors that should be considered while restraining speeches like strong opinions, offensive comments towards certain communities, the effect on values like dignity, liberty and equality.
  • We all have to work together and communicate efficiently for our country to be a healthy place to live in.

 

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Free speech of Ministers, restrictions and the opinion of the court

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Freedom of speech and restrivtions

Mains level: Freedom of speech, political free speech, And Hate speech

restrictions

Context

  • A Constitution Bench of the Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously and rightly ruled out any additional curbs on free speech by ministers. It said, like other citizens, they are guaranteed the right to freedom of expression under Article 19(1) (a), governed by the reasonable restrictions laid out in Article 19(2) and those are enough.

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What is the issue of freedom of speech to Ministers?

  • Scope: Ministers and lawmakers enjoy the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) of the Constitution as other citizens and additional restrictions cannot be imposed to curb their right to free speech.
  • Restrictions: A five-judge Constitution bench held that curbs on free speech cannot extend beyond what is prescribed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution imposes reasonable restrictions and applies equally on all citizens.

What the court said?

  • Rights are not residual privileges: Court said that the role of the court is to protect fundamental rights limited by lawful restrictions and not to protect restrictions and make the rights residual privileges.
  • Distinction on government’s responsibility and remarks by individual minister: The ruling also made a valid distinction on the government’s vicarious responsibility for ill-judged or hateful remarks made by its individual ministers, the flow of stream in collective responsibility is from the Council of Ministers to the individual ministers. The flow is not on the reverse, namely from the individual ministers to the Council of Ministers.
  • Clarification on the concept of collective responsibility: It is not possible to extend the concept of collective responsibility, it said, to “any and every statement orally made by a Minister outside the House of the People/Legislative Assembly”.
  • Public functionaries should be more responsible while they speak: Even while agreeing with the majority ruling, however, it is possible to underline the concern articulated in the minority judgment over a hateful public discourse “hate speech, whatever its content may be, denies human beings the right to dignity”. And to agree with it when it speaks of the special duty of public functionaries and other persons of influence to be more responsible and restrained in their speech, to “understand and measure their words”.

What is ‘Hate Speech’?

  • There is no specific legal definition of ‘hate speech’.
  • The Law Commission of India, in its 267th Report, says: “Hate speech generally is an incitement to hatred primarily against a group of persons defined in terms of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religious belief and the like.
  • Thus, hate speech is any word written or spoken, signs, visible representations within the hearing or sight of a person with the intention to cause fear or alarm, or incitement to violence.
  • In general, hate speech is considered a limitation on free speech that seeks to prevent or bar speech that exposes a person or a group or section of society to hate, violence, ridicule or indignity

Brief Analysis: Hate speech by Ministers

  • Problem is real but primarily political: The problem of hate speech by ministers and others belonging to the party in power is real, but it is primarily political.
  • Solution is not in new law as, there are enough provisions to deal with it: The solution is not for the court to draw a new line, or even, as the minority judgment proposed, for Parliament to make another law. There are enough provisions in the statute book to deal with speech that promotes enmity and violence or results in cramping the freedoms of others.
  • Legal provisions can be weaponised so what is needed is a political resolve: What is missing is the political resolve and will of governments to act on instances of hate speech, especially when they involve one of their own, and there are no legal shortcuts to make up for that absence. In fact, the same legal provisions that are designed to curb hate speech can be twisted and turned and weaponised by governments against citizens who dissent and disagree.

Conclusion

  • The problem of hate speech by ministers and others associated with the party in power is real, but it is primarily political. The solution lies not in making new laws, but in individual responsibility and collective political resolve.

Mains question

Q. How do you understand hate speech? Do ministers and MLAs have freedom of speech? Discuss the recent court ruling on free speech restrictions on ministers.

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Ministers’ Right to Free Speech and Issues

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: Freedom of speech and reasonable restrictions

Mains level: Political free speech

minister

The Supreme Court has held that there is no reason to impose “additional restrictions” on the right to free speech of Ministers and the government is not vicariously liable for disparaging remarks made by them, even if the comments are traceable to state affairs or meant to protect the government.

Why are we discussing this?

  • Many politicians make unwarranted statements and tender an apology in return.
  • The PM or the CM does not have disciplinary control over the members of the Council of Ministers.
  • In a country like ours, where there is a multi-party system and where coalition Governments are often formed, it is not possible at all times for the whip to control the politician’s behavior.
  • A derogatory speech that closely resembles hate speech cannot fall within the ambit of the free speech right.

Do ministers and lawmakers have absolute freedom of speech?

  • Scope: Ministers and lawmakers enjoy the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1) of the Constitution as other citizens and additional restrictions cannot be imposed to curb their right to free speech.
  • Restrictions: A five-judge Constitution bench held that curbs on free speech cannot extend beyond what is prescribed under Article 19(2) of the Constitution imposes reasonable restrictions and applies equally on all citizens.

What is the case?

  • The proceedings in the case began when the top court took cognisance of a controversial statement made by former UP minister in July 2016.
  • He had allegedly termed a gang rape case as part of a “political conspiracy”. While he was let off with an unconditional apology, the Court agreed to examine the larger issue.
  • In October 2017, a three-judge bench referred the matter to the constitution bench to decide on various aspects of the matter.

Key issues examined

  • Free speech and sensitive issues: The top priority was to examine whether ministers, public functionaries and lawmakers can claim freedom of speech while expressing views on sensitive matters.
  • Free speech and state matters: Another key aspect of the matter was whether a statement by a minister in relation to any affairs of the State or for the protection of government can be attributed vicariously to the government itself.

What does Article 19 say?

  • Freedom: Article 19(1) (a) guarantees the freedom of speech and expression to all citizens. It is the first condition of liberty and plays an important role in forming public opinion.
  • Restrictions: As per Article 19(2), restrictions can be imposed upon the freedom of speech and expression in the interests of:
  1. Sovereignty and integrity of India,
  2. Security of the state,
  3. Friendly relations with foreign states,
  4. Public order, decency or morality, or
  5. In relation to contempt of court,
  6. Defamation, or
  7. Incitement to an offense

What does the judgment say about free speech restrictions?

  • Citizens had the right to petition the Court for violations of Article 19 (freedom of expression) and Article 21 (right to life).
  • A statement made by the Minister, inconsistent with the rights of the citizens, may not by itself be actionable.
  • It is not possible to extend this concept of collective responsibility to any and every statement orally made by a Minister outside the House of the People/Legislative Assembly.

Way forward

  • Legal framework: A proper legal framework was necessary before taking action as a constitutional tort.
  • Political will: Parliament could enact legislation or code to restrain citizens in general and public functionaries in particular from making disparaging or vitriolic remarks against fellow citizens.
  • Code of conduct: Likewise, political parties should come up with a code of conduct to regulate and control the actions and speech of their functionaries and members.

 

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Freedom of Speech – Defamation, Sedition, etc.

Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Report

Note4Students

From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: CPJ Report

Mains level: Freedom of press

The number of journalists jailed around the world for practicing their profession has touched a record high, with 363 reporters deprived of their freedom as of December 1, 2022, according to the 2022 prison census released by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

About Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)

  • The CPJ is an American independent non-profit, non-governmental organization, based in New York City, New York, with correspondents around the world.
  • CPJ promotes press freedom and defends the rights of journalists.
  • It is often called as the “Journalism’s Red Cross.”
  • Since late 1980s, the organization has been publishing an annual census of journalists killed or imprisoned in relation to their work.

Key highlights of CPJ report

  • This year’s top five jailers of journalists were Iran, China, Myanmar, Turkey, and Belarus, respectively.
  • New ‘fake news’ laws, criminal defamation, and abuse of judiciary are also tactics used to clamp down on press freedom.
  • This year’s top five jailers of journalists were Iran, China, Myanmar, Turkey, and Belarus, respectively.
  • These govt aimed to keep the lid on broiling discontent in a world disrupted by COVID-19 and the economic fallout from Russia’s war on Ukraine.
  • In China, too, another ‘worst offender’, many imprisoned journalists were Uighurs from Xinjiang.

What did it say about India?

India continues to draw criticism over its treatment of the media, in particular its use of-

  1. Jammu and Kashmir Public Safety Act,
  2. Preventive detention law- to keep journalists behind bars after they were granted court-ordered bail in separate cases,
  3. Terrorism-related Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act to investigate and charge the journalists.

Why does this report matter?

  • Earlier this year, India has reached 150th position in the World Press Freedom Index, dropping further from its last year’s 142nd rank out of 180 countries.
  • The safety of journalists is a grave concern in the Indian media landscape.

Conclusion

  • The right occasion to deliberate about the much-needed reforms in the media ecosystem in the country is due.
  • Establishing plurality in ownership, better legal frameworks to protect journalists, and steps to reduce the influence of vested interest groups in Media operations are the immediate steps required.

Back2Basics: Freedom of Press and Constitutional Provisions

  • The Supreme Court in Romesh Thappar v. the State of Madras, 1950 observed that freedom of the press lay at the foundation of all democratic organisations.
  • It is guaranteed under the freedom of speech and expression under Article 19, which deals with ‘Protection of certain rights regarding freedom of speech, etc.
  • Freedom of the press is not expressly protected by the Indian legal system but it is impliedly protected under article 19(1) (a) of the constitution.
  • The freedom of the press is also not absolute.

Reasonable restrictions

  • A law could impose only those restrictions on the exercise of this right, it faces certain restrictions under article 19(2), which is as follows:
  1. Sovereignty and integrity of India
  2. Security of the State,
  3. Friendly relations with foreign States
  4. Public order, decency or morality
  5. Contempt of court
  6. Defamation
  7. Incitement to an offence

 

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