Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Sedition law being "misused" to fight dissent in India: Activists close ranks, file petition in Supreme Court

Kashmiri families at the Bangaluru event
By Our Representative
Following sedition charge slapped on Amnesty India for organizing a debate on human rights violations in Kashmir in Karnataka, India's top activists have begun to close ranks to strongly oppose the sedition law, which they believe involves the misuse of section 124A of the Indian penal Code (IPC) against any form of dissent.
Taking into account what is considered as “persistent persecution of students, journalists and intellectuals involved in social activism”, a petition has been filed in the Supreme Court by top anti-nuclear activist, Dr SP Udayakumar, which argues that sedition charges are “framed with a view to instill fear and to scuttle dissent.”
Pointing out that the sedition law is being “misapplied” in “complete violation of the scope of sedition as laid down by constitution bench judgment of Supreme Court in Kedar nath v State of Bihar [1962 Supp. (2) S.C.R. 769]”, the petition argues that the issue is of “immediate relevance” in the backdrop of the charge being leveled on increasing number of instances.
The petition points out to how the sedition charge was misused against student leaders of the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), including JNU Students Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, by the Delhi police, which is directly under the central government, the petition cites several “more recent” sedition charge on Amnesty India.
Referring to a constitution bench judgment, the petition says, only those acts which involve incitement to violence or violence constitute a seditious act, adding, in the Kedarnath case, “the scope of sedition as a penal offence was laid down” by only for offences which could be qualified as “incitement to violence” or the “tendency or the intention to create public disorder”.
“Those actions which do not involve violence or tendency to create public disorder, such as organization of debates/discussions, drawing of cartoons, criticism of the government etc. do not constitute the offence of sedition”, the petition says.
The petition also seeks direction from the court to make it “compulsory” for the concerned authority to produce a reasoned order from the Director General of Police or the Commissioner of Police, as the case maybe, certifying that the 'seditious act' could lead to incitement of violence or had the tendency create public disorder.
Insisting that only after such certification should an FIR be filed or any arrest made, the petition wants that there should be “a review of all pending sedition cases and criminal complaints of sedition before a Judicial Magistrate.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty, responding to the allegations of sedition made in the context of the Kashmir event organized in Bengaluru on August 13, has said that the charge is “without substance”, adding, the whole purpose of the event was to highlight the voice of families which suffered from human rights violations.
Part of its “Broken Families” campaign, carried out for providing justice to the families which had suffered casualties during violence in the Kashmir aalley, Amnesty said, the event based on “a report published in July 2015 after thorough research documenting the hurdles to justice faced by the families.”
The Bengaluru police has filed a criminal case against Amnesty for organizing the event involving discussions with families from Kashmir, who were featured in a 2015 report, and had traveled to Bengaluru to narrate their personal stories of grief and loss.
A first information report (FIR) was filed on the basis of a complaint filed by the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP),the students' wing of the BJP. The FIR mentions a number of offences including ‘sedition’, ‘unlawful assembly’, ‘rioting’ and ‘promoting enmity’.
“Merely organizing an event to defend constitutional values is now being branded ‘anti-India’ and criminalized,” said Aakar Patel, Executive director, Amnesty International India, adding, “The filing of a complaint against us now, and the registration of a case of sedition, shows a lack of belief in fundamental rights.”

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