India’s top court keeps controversial colonial-era sedition law on hold
New Delhi, May 11 (EFE).- India’s top court Wednesday put on hold its colonial-era sedition law until the central government reviewed the controversial provision, which the opposition has repeatedly alleged was being misused to suppress dissent.
The Supreme Court’s interim order to pause the 152-year-old sedition law brings some relief to thousands of people in India facing sedition charges.
“It will be appropriate not to use this provision of law till further reexamination is over,” said a bench of Chief Justice NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli.
The court asked the central and state governments not to register any cases or initiate a proceeding under the 1870 law as long as it was under reconsideration.
“It is clear that the central government agrees that the rigors of Section 124A are not in tune with the current situation and it was intended for the time when the country was under colonial law,” the court said.
The top court was hearing petitions that challenged the law alleging its misuse by governments.
“The (government) is at liberty to pass directives to states to prevent misuse of the law,” Justice Ramana said.
The court said all pending cases, appeals, and proceedings on charges framed under the law be kept in abeyance.
Senior lawyer Kapil Sibal, representing the petitioners, said 13,000 people were in jails across India facing sedition charges.
The government earlier this week told the court that it was aware of the various views on the law and expressed its willingness “to re-examine and re-consider the provisions.”
However, the central government opposed the move to keep it on hold.
It had urged the court to defer hearing on the petitions that challenged the constitutional validity of the sedition law until a review was carried out “before an appropriate forum.”
The court had precisely asked the government if it was “still necessary to retain” the law that Britishers used to suppress India’s freedom movement.
“If we go see the history of charging of this section, the enormous power of this section can be compared to a carpenter being given a saw to make an item, using it to cut the entire forest instead of a tree. That is the effect of this provision,” the chief justice said earlier.
Opposition and rights activists have frequently accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government of increasingly using the law to silence critics, intellectuals, rights defenders, students, and journalists.
Some have even been jailed for merely making speeches, with police arguing that their words reeked of a threat to national security.
According to official data, 326 cases have been registered under the sedition law between 2014-2019, with only six convictions.
The government last year told the parliament that its crime portal began collecting data on cases registered under the sedition offense in 2014 only. EFE