SEDITION IN RESPECT OF FREEDOM OF SPEECH AND EXPRESSION: INDIAN LEGAL PERSPECTIVE

The goal of the research is to broaden people's awareness of sedition and to educate them about it so that they are aware of the speech, writing, sign, or other visible representation that is considered sedition and are familiar with its fundamentals.

The irony of the law is that it permits criticism of the government but forbids truth from being used as justification for the crime, even though the people are required to make some sort of comment on the government.

This crime's nature is inherent in the idea of sovereignty and its power. In contrast to popular belief, the country and its citizens are sovereign, not the government. They do not have the right to have protection against sedition now that the government is no longer sovereign. Another crucial question is whether the term "sedition" is overused in article 19(2) and, if so, in what context.


Introduction

The government in charge at the federal level and in the states has a history of abusing the Law of Sedition in the name of maintaining the integrity and security of the country. Article 19(1) (a) of the Constitution is violated in that situation.

Due to this abuse, concerns have frequently been expressed concerning how someone may be found guilty of sedition despite possessing the freedom of speech and expression as a Fundamental Right.

The vague definition of sedition provided in Section 124A of the IPC, which is much broader in terms of the interpretation provided by the Hon. Supreme Court in Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar[1], is one of the Law of Sedition's major problems. In that case, the court upheld the Law of Sedition's constitutionality by striking the proper balance between the Law of Sedition on the one hand and the fundamental right of free speech on the other.

Regarding the right to free speech and expression, this law's implementation presents another issue. Situations in which the charge of sedition may be leveled lack uniformity and clarity. Although only a small percentage of sedition proceedings have resulted in real convictions, it is argued that they annoy people while they wait for the verdict, which can take years in some circumstances.


Free Speech and Constitution of India

All Indian people have a fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a) of the Indian Constitution, subject to laws imposing restrictions.

If citizens are exposed to the ideas and knowledge accessible, they will take the initiative to educate one another in society. The participation of citizens in a country's affairs can be increased through debates and open conversations.

The entire process of gathering citizen feedback on government policies also serves the practical requirement of selecting policies that ensure the satisfaction of the greatest number of people. In this regard, the Supreme Court of India highlighted a statement that stated: "Communication encourages a discourse inside society wherein people can choose to either uphold or criticize the prevailing social processes."[2]


John Stuart Mill advocated for the free flow of ideas or opinions to secure stability in a democratic society. He opined that this could be achieved by guaranteeing citizens' freedom of speech and expression.[3] The Supreme Court of India elucidated the connection between the freedom of speech and expression and democracy in Re Harjai Singh,[4] that the first and the foremost requirement of a democratic society is the participation of the citizens in the affairs of the state.

This can only be achieved when the citizens get accurate information about policies undertaken by the Government so that they are in a position to put forward their dissenting opinions if any. Again, in S. Khushboo v. Kanniammal and Anr.[5]The Supreme Court highlighted the importance of the free flow of thoughts in a democratic setup, ensuring good governance. The court held that people should not fear authorities while exercising their right to freedom of expression, even when expressing dissenting opinions.


Scope of the offense of Sedition under Indian Penal Code, 1860

The word "Sedition" is just added as a marginal comment and does not function as a part of the section. The first portion of Section 124A of the IPC establishes the infraction, while the second part specifies the penalty. Since its introduction, there has been disagreement over the definition and parameters of the offense.


The phrase chosen to define the violation is what has sparked this dispute. On one hand, the language used in the clause relating to the crime of sedition talks of disapprobation without using adjectives like hatred, contempt, or disaffection. The provision also criminalizes attempting to stir up animosity, disdain, or disaffection, although it makes no mention of what one should really do.

It is crucial to analyze the section's components under Section 124A of the IPC in order to comprehend the section's scope. These components are as follows:

Section 124A of IPC provides that,

  1. Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise,

  2. brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by Law in India

will receive a sentence of life in prison, to which a fine may be added, or a sentence of up to three years in jail, to which a fine may also be imposed.


'Whoever': Anyone who is in charge of writing, publishing, printing, or disseminating is subject to liability under this provision since "whoever" includes the speaker.[6]

In the event that a publisher or printer is held accountable for publishing or printing seditious material, it is presumed, absent evidence to the contrary, that they were aware of the item's seditious nature. Therefore, it can be inferred that under the concepts of shared culpability established by section 34 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, everyone who took part directly or indirectly in propagating the seditious information can be held accountable.


In Kedar Nath Singh v. State of Bihar, the Supreme Court of India noted that "the ongoing existence of the government created by law is an essential prerequisite of the stability of the state," recognizing the relevance of a State Government established by Law. The court further noted that the term "Government" is distinct from the individuals in charge of carrying out the Government's obligations. Therefore, it will not be considered sedition if any seditious text stirs up hatred or contempt for those people.

Each situation is unique. Therefore, even though the ministers are commonly referred to as "the Government," they are not "the Government" as defined under sections 17 and 124A of the IPC. The ministers are the Governor's advisors in an absolute sense, regardless of custom.


Conclusion

Without a question, it is important to preserve public order and safeguard national integrity, but at the same time, the legislation against seditious activity shouldn't be employed by authorities as a means of limiting free speech.

A miscarriage of justice has occurred as a result of the provision's use of ambiguous language to define the crime of sedition. Section 124A of the IPC is ambiguous, making it challenging for courts to interpret the provision of law. India is currently a democratic, independent state.

Even without the state's underpinnings being compromised, the government could crumble. The Law of Sedition, which was deemed necessary when a foreign power was in power, is no longer acceptable now that the people have gained access to fundamental rights. This section penalizes any criticism of the government, no matter how small, which is against the fundamental rights outlined in Article 19(1). (a). The high percentage of unsuccessful sedition prosecutions demonstrates how the law has been abused by the state. Therefore, the sedition statute must be immediately repealed to allow for the exercise of the right to free speech and expression.


-- [1] Kedar Nath v. State of Bihar, AIR 1962 SC 955 [2] Khushboo v. Kanniammal, 2010 (4) SCALE 467 [3] Law Commission of India, Consultation Paper on Sedition, August 30, 2018 [4] AIR 1997 SC 73. [5]S. Khusboo v. Kanniamal and Anr, AIR 2010 SC 3196 [6] W.R. Donogh, A Treatise on the Law of Sedition and Cognate Offenses in British India 84 (Calcutta: Thakker, Spink and Co., 1911).



This article is written by Arghya Chakraborty of M.S.Ramaiah College of Law.

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