Updated: Jul 2, 2020
“Clearly, Dissent, criticism of government, questioning politicians – all of which are fundamental to the democracy – have come to be treated as sedition by the police and a section of the magistracy in the prevalent political order. Such terrorizing of critics and protestors endanger the very idea of democracy” writes Shastri Ramachandran in his column in the Outlook, magazine regarding the increasing number of cases against the journalists in the Sedition or Defamation.
According to the Indian Penal Code, 1860 the section 124-A defines sedition as “Whoever by words, either spoken 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 shall be punished with imprisonment to life, to which fine maybe added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.” Sedition is considered as the reasonable restriction on Freedom of Speech - which is guaranteed by the supreme law of India, the Constitution of India under the Article 19(1) (a) which secures to every citizen the right to freedom of speech and expression. Freedom of Speech and Expression has well-recognized connotation which means the liberty to express one’s views, opinions and beliefs. Freedom of Speech and Expression means the right to express one’s convictions and opinions freely by word of mouth, writing, printing, pictures or any other mode. A democratic government attaches great importance to this freedom because without the freedom of speech, appeal to reason, which is the basis of democracy, cannot be made.
Freedom of Speech is different from Sedition as it is a mere statement of the personal opinion or views of a person, whereas Sedition is influencing another person or a group of people against the government. In 2019, the Lok sabha manifesto promised to do away with section 124-A as it was being used as a vindictive tool rather than to protect the government officials or the government itself. In the past there were a lot of journalists like Kamal Shukla and Vinod Dua, writers like Arundhati Roy, students like Amulya Leona Noronha- for sloganeering which is not a crime or a form of Sedition, intellectuals, scholars and activists like Lokamanya Tilak, who were charged for the case Sedition because they put out their opinions in the public. To combat this antagonist behavior of the government towards the journalists, the Congress during the UPA’s 10 years, tried to do away with this section but could not due to the ample opportunity available. The number of sedition charges against the journalists is increasing day by day.
The most recent being the charges filed against the Padmashri awardee Vinod Dua. Vinod Dua has been an Indian media personality for a long time now. He has been recognized as a prominent figure in the media after his show on Dooradarshan, “Aap ke Liye” in the year 1984. That year has been a landmark in his career.
The police from the regions of Himachal Pradesh filed a case against the known personality for Sedition against the current government and the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi himself. The FIR states that Mr.Dua in a TV show hosted in the month of February 2020, accused the Prime Minister, Narendra Modi of using “Deaths and Terror attacks” to get votes. The Police officer along with sedition has pressed charges for causing public nuisance, printing of defamatory matter and making statements conducive to public mischief.
In the video, Dua has spoken about the riots taking place in the Northeast in the capital city, Delhi. He has not explicitly mentioned the Prime Minister. He said that most of the people within the media looked to spin everything into an event for the Prime Minister, and added that the Pathankot and Pulwama attacks and the Balakot strike had been “politicized” to seek votes.
Vinod Dua submitted his petition to the Apex Court in regard to the same where he mentions the violation of his freedom and about the harassment and intimidation the journalists have to face when they only try to put their views to the general public. He urged the Supreme Court to issue guidelines on the registration of the FIRs in such matters.
The bench, headed by Justice U.U Lalit, which was held on Sunday (16 June 2020) considering the petition put forth by Vinod Dua, asked the Centre to not file any FIRs against the journalists who have been working for the state for more than 10 years.
The court also stayed the arrest of Mr.Vinod Dua until the next hearing on the 06 July 2020. The court has also stated that there will be interrogation with the prior notice of 24-hours with the co-operation of Mr. Dua.
The Court restrained the police from arresting Vinod Dua on Sunday but refused to stay the investigation into the Sedition case giving the chance of doubt to people to believe that opinionating is the misuse of the power given to every citizen, which is mentioned in the Constitution. We fail to mention the struggles of other such journalists who try to bring out the information to the general public. This is not the first case filed and there have been too many such cases in the Apex Court where anybody in favour of a political party uses this Section of The Indian Penal Code, to shut the mouths of those who are brave enough to come out and speak their views. If every time a journalist is put behind the bars for a term that is not defined, then there will be no journalist, and nobody to question the government on their decisions, which contradicts the basic idea of Democracy.
The only way a Nation can remain a democratic nation, is when the government is questioned for their actions. To keep the journalists and other intellectuals who give their opinions or their views on the current situation and the current working of the government, should have guidelines which can differentiate Freedom of Speech and Expression from the Sedition Act, was introduced and practiced by the Draconian Rule, under the British Government to lock up those who used newspapers and pamphlets or public gatherings to address the general public about the cruel governing of the British Government. Today this Sedition Act does not stand good to the present administration and should be given proper guidelines or should be done away with.
- LEGAL HUMMING
(CO-AUTHOR ARUNDATHI MANDYAM)