Sedition or defamation cases cannot be slapped on anyone criticising the government, the Supreme Court said on Monday. “Someone making a statement to criticise the government does not invoke an offence under sedition or defamation law. We have made it clear that invoking of section 124(A) of IPC (sedition) requires certain guidelines to be followed as per the earlier judgement of the apex court,” a bench of Justices Dipak Misra and U.U. Lalit said.
The observation came as advocate Prashant Bhushan, appearing for an NGO, said sedition was a serious offence and the law on it was being grossly misused for stifling dissent. He cited the examples of sedition charges being slapped on agitators protesting against Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project and cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, among others.
To this, the bench said, “We don’t have to explain the sedition law. It’s already there in the five-judge constitution bench judgment in Kedar Nath Singh vs state of Bihar of 1962.”
The court, while disposing of a petition filed by NGO Common Cause alleging misuse of the sedition law, refused to pass a direction on the plea that a copy of this order be sent to all Chief Secretaries of states and the Directors General of Police.
“You have to file separate plea highlighting if any misuse of sedition law is there. In criminal jurisprudence, allegations and cognisance have to be case specific, otherwise it will go haywire. There can’t be any generalisation,” the bench said.
Mr. Bhushan said law has not been amended after the Kedar Nath Singh judgment by the apex court and that a constable does not understand the judgment, but what he understands is the section in the IPC.
“Constables don’t need to understand. It is the magistrate who needs to understand and follow the guidelines as laid down by the apex court while invoking sedition charges,” the apex court said. The court was hearing a plea seeking the apex court’s intervention to address the “misuse” of section 124(A) of the IPC contending that such a charge was being framed with a view to “instil fear and scuttle dissent.”
The NGO’s plea said “there has been an increase in the number of cases of sedition against intellectuals, activists, students, with the latest being the sedition charge on Amnesty India for organising a debate on Kashmir.”
“In this regard, a petition has been filed to address the misuse and misapplication of Section 124A (sedition law) by the Centre and various State Governments leading to routine persecution of students, journalists and intellectuals engaged in social activism. It is submitted that these charges are framed with a view to instill fear and to scuttle dissent.”
Acting on a complaint by the ABVP on Saturday, Bengaluru police had slapped sedition charges against Amnesty International India after an event it had organised on allegations of human rights violations and denial of justice in Jammu and Kashmir.
Referring to a National Crime Records Bureau report, the plea said that 47 cases of sedition were filed in 2014 alone and 58 persons arrested in connection with these cases, but the government has managed only one conviction so far.
It cited a series of recent examples of activists being slapped with sedition charges, including Arundhati Roy in 2010 for alleged anti-India remarks at an event in Kashmir, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi in 2012 for allegedly insulting the country through his cartoons, doctor and human rights activist Binayak Sen, JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar and DU professor S.A.R. Geelani.
The plea sought a direction that either Director General of Police or Commissioner of Police be asked to give a report before registration of an FIR for the offence of sedition that the act has led to violence or there was an intent on the part of the accused to create public disorder.
It also sought a direction that the investigations and prosecutions be dropped in cases where such a reasoned order was not provided and the act in question involved peaceful expression or assembly.
The constitutional validity of section 124(A) rests upon either an intention to create public disorder or incitement of violence, it had said.