Do not invoke sedition for harsh expressions, says Law Commission paper

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New Delhi : Law Commission on Thursday suggested that sedition charges should be invoked only in cases where the intention behind an act is to disrupt public order or overthrow the government with violence, and that it should not be used for merely expressing a thought that is not in consonance with the policy of the government.

The Commmision made the suggestion in a 35-page "Consultation Paper on Sedition" released on Thursday. It was asked to consider section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), 1860, which deals with sedition following a meeting held on July 5.

The Commission solicited suggestions from the cross-section of the society to prepare the consultation paper comprising Assistant Professor Anumeha Mishra of Delhi University's (Law Department), Assistant Professor Sethu Gupta of Noida's Amity Law School; Dr Saumya Saxena and Preeti Badola, who worked as consultants; Director General Narcotics Control Bureau Abhay and advocate Shivani Luthra Lohiya.

The paper said: "In a democracy, singing from the same songbook is not a benchmark of patriotism. People should be at liberty to show their affection towards their country in their own way. For doing same, one might indulge in constructive criticism or debates."

Referring to a person pointing out the loopholes in the policy of the government, the paper said: "Expressions used in such thoughts might be harsh and unpleasant to some, but that does not render the actions to be branded seditious. Section 124 A should be invoked only in cases where the intention behind any act is to disrupt public order or to overthrow the government with violence and illegal means."

"Every irresponsible exercise of right to free speech and expression cannot be termed seditious. For merely expressing a thought that is not in consonance with the policy of the government of the day, a person should not be charged under the section."

Expression of frustration over the state of affairs, for instance, calling India "no country for women", or a country that is "racist" for its obsession with skin colour as a marker of beauty are critiques that do not 'threaten' the idea of nation, said the paper, adding "berating the country or a particular aspect of it, cannot and should not be treated as sedition".

It suggested if the country is not open to positive criticism, there lies little difference between the pre and post independence eras.

The paper said that sedition law should not be misused as a tool to curb free speech in the name protecting national integrity.

"Dissent and criticism are essentially ingredients of a robust public debate on policy issues as part of vibrant democracy. Therefore, every restriction on free speech and expression must be carefully scrutinized to avoid unwarranted restrictions."

In order to study revision of section 124 A, the paper also suggested, considering the Britain law that abolished sedition ten years back declaring it a draconian law.