Former SC Judge Rohintan Nariman wants sedition law out

Repeal of sedition law & UAPA major demand of Indian Jurists

By Satyaki Chakraborty

Stressing how the draconian laws muzzle free speech, Justice Nariman said, “There is a chilling effect on free speech. If you are booking persons, including journalists, under these laws, which come with large sentences and no anticipatory bail, people would not speak their mind.”

The demand for the repeal of the sedition law and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act(UAPA) has now come to the fore once again with the former Supreme Court Justice Rohintan Nariman forcefully stating that the time has come for the apex court to let citizens breathe more freely by removing both sedition law and UAPA from the statute.
In fact this eminent jurist was most emphatic in pointing out that the Supreme Court should not keep sending the pending case to the Government since Governments come and go and it is not the Government’s business to start amending or repealing laws. He said that it is a matter for the Supreme Court and it is important that the court uses its powers to strike down section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code and the offensive provisions of UAPA in the interests of free speech.
Many petitions are pending in the Supreme Court challenging sedition law as it is an old draconian law framed by the British during its rule to subjugate the Indians and the freedom fighters. Despite demands by the human rights activists and the independent jurists, the present government of Narendra Modi is retaining both the laws and these are being used to suppress dissent. Earlier also many retired judges including Madan Lokur and A P Shah demanded the repeal of the sedition. Leading human rights lawyers like Indira Jaising and Anand Grover have been fighting for the removal of sedition law and UAPA for a long time.
Stressing how the draconian laws muzzle free speech, Justice Nariman said, “There is a chilling effect on free speech. If you are booking persons, including journalists, under these laws, which come with large sentences and no anticipatory bail, people would not speak their mind.”
At an event held to commemorate the 109th birth anniversary of late Viswanath Pasayat, Justice Nariman mentioned India’s low ranking of 142 out of 180 countries in the Reporters sans frontières’ World Freedom Index in light of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning journalists Maria Ressa (the Philippines) and Dmitry Muratov (Russia). If the top court repeals these laws, “maybe, then India will move from 142 out of 180 to much higher”, he said.
According to the former Judge, the sedition law was “set up by a colonial master to suppress free speech in a colony” and “continues to be misused”. “After Shayara Bano, manifest arbitrariness is now a ground you can take—that a colonial law is being brought to oppress free citizens.”
Pointing out India’s colonial mindset in continuing with the law, Justice Nariman said that “England has matured as a democracy. While during the reign of Edward III, there was a Treason Act, it was recommended to be abolished in 1977 and the same was done. The US also had a Sedition Act of 1798 which expired. After World War 1, they had the Alien and Seditions Act of 1918, which came to be the subject of several US Supreme Court judgements”.
Explaining how the Section on sedition was initially present in the draft IPC but had not found a place in the ultimate Code, the former Judge said, “It was rediscovered and incorporated in 1870, and that is how 124A came to be. It was said that the Section was missed by oversight. The punishment under 124A was transportation for life and imprisonment for three years.”
Tracing the history of the UAPA to India’s wars with Pakistan and China, Justice Nariman said that they “led to the draconian UAPA. There is no provision for anticipatory bail and a minimum sentence of five years, which can be extended to life imprisonment. As regards bail, the prosecution only needs to show a prima facie case. This law should also be examined along with sedition law”.
It may be mentioned here that in recent years, a large number of activists are in jail under UAPA provisions and they include the leading human rights activists arrested in the Bhima Koregaon case. They are still in prison and many of them are ailing. In fact, the renowned leader of the tribals Stan Swamy died in prison in ailing condition. Other imprisoned activists like Dr. Soma Sen, lawyer Sudha Bharadwaj are ailing but getting no relief.
Former Justice Rohinton Nariman’s unequivocal demand for the repeal of the sedition laws and UAPA has given a fresh boost to the movement for the removal of the draconian laws and this should have some impact on the present bench of the Supreme Court. The CJI N V Ramana is taking a more objective view of the pending cases involving human rights issues and the expectation has grown that the CJI will look at the sedition case taking into account the need for ensuring freedom in speech and activities of the citizens. (IPA Service)

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