The Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the use of sedition laws and directed the Centre and states to not register any fresh FIR invoking sedition charges until the government re-examines the colonial era penal law.
A bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana said all pending cases, appeals and proceedings with respect to charges framed for sedition should be kept in abeyance.
The SC bench said those already booked under Section 124A IPC and in jail could approach competent courts for appropriate relief and bail.
It is also said that any relief granted to the accused will continue.
This is the first time in 162 years that the operation of the provision of Section 124A has been suspended. The apex court said the Union government is free to issue additional directions to the states.
The top court will now hear the pleas challenging the validity of sedition provisions in the third week of July. By then, the Centre would have the time to undertake the exercise to re-examine the provision.
Earlier during the hearing, the Centre told the court that it cannot prevent police from registering a cognizable offence under the sedition provision, but said an FIR under Section 124A would be registered only if the area superintendent of police (SP) is satisfied that the facts of a case involve a sedition offence.
With regard to pending sedition cases, the Centre suggested that hearings on bail in such matters may be expedited as the government did not know the gravity of the offence in each case and they may have terror or money laundering angles.
“Ultimately, pending cases are before the judicial forum and we need to trust the courts,” the law officer told the bench, which also comprised justices Surya Kant and Hima Kohli.
Know about sedition law
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), which deals with sedition, was drafted by Thomas Babington Macaulay and included in the IPC in 1870.
The Supreme Court is hearing petitions challenging the validity of the law on sedition, which has been under intense public scrutiny for its alleged misuse to settle political scores by various governments.
In July 2021, the SC asked the Centre why it was not repealing the colonial-era law that was used by the British to silence Mahatma Gandhi.
“This was the law used by the Britishers to silence Mahatma Gandhi. Do you think this law is still necessary? “N V Ramana, Chief Justice of India, has asked.
The court has made it clear that their primary concern is the misuse of the sedition law and the accountability of agencies that use it.”There is a serious threat of misuse,” the Supreme Court noted.
What does Section 124 A state?
Section 124A of the IPC, which deals with sedition, states, “Whoever, 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 a fine.”
Punishment under Section 124A
Sedition is a non-bailable offence. Punishment under the law varies from imprisonment for up to three years to a life term and a fine. A person charged under this law can’t apply for a government job. They have to live without their passport and must present themselves in court as and when required.