Experts debate the relevance of sedition law

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New Delhi, Feb 25 (IANS) Against the backdrop of some students of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) being booked under the sedition law, legal experts and public intellectuals are debating whether the controversial provision should be removed from the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

“Sedition is a conversation stopper. You can’t talk about atrocities in Kashmir, happenings in tribal areas. Talking about the functioning of a government and the promises it backtracked on cannot be seditious anyway,” political scientist Neera Chandhoke said here at a discussion on ‘Law and Politics of Sedition’ on Wednesday.

Senior advocate Fali Nariman said free speech, like any other fundamental right, was not absolute and could be restricted on certain grounds like public order, defamation and contempt of court.

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“One of these grounds was also sedition which was removed from the permissible ground of restriction from Article 19(2) of the Constitution. But sedition remains under Article 124 (A), left wholly to the interpretation of the court,” he said.

The online Oxford dictionary defines ‘sedition’ as “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch”.

Section 124A of the IPC defines ‘sedition’ as follows:

“Whoever, 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 shall be punished with im­prisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with impris­onment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

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Professor of O.P. Jindal University-Sonipat Shiv Viswanathan said sedition must not be used to muzzle dissent and imprison the dissenter.

“It is yet to be proved what the JNU students said. Whatever slogans were raised is a matter to be proved before the court of law and people need not get carried away,” he added.

Media expert Suhas Borker said: “Sedition is a colonial and it has no place in a modern free society.”

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