Sedition Case
04/06/2021

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Context:

  • The Supreme Court quashed the sedition case registered against journalist Vinod Dua in Shimla, Himachal Pradesh, more than a year after an FIR was filed against him by a local BJP leader over comments Dua made on his YouTube show criticising the Central government.

Issue:

  • The complainant had alleged that Dua had accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of using “deaths and terror attacks” to get votes, and the journalist was charged under sections 124A (sedition), 268 (public nuisance), 501 (printing matter known to be defamatory) and 505 (statements conducive to public mischief).

Stand of SC:

  • On the issue of protection of freedom of speech and expression of media personnel, it said, “Every journalist is entitled to protection under the Kedar Nath Singh judgment (the famous verdict of 1962 on the scope and ambit of offence of sedition in the IPC).”

Kedar Nath Singh v State of Bihar (1962):

  • In 1953, Kedar Nath Singh, a member of the Forward Communist Party from Bihar, took on the ruling Congress during a rally at Begusarai, where he said,

 

Today, the dogs of CBI are loitering around Barauni [in Begusarai]. Many official dogs are sitting even in this meeting. The people of India drove out the British from the country and elected these Congress goondas to the gaddi.

As we drove out the British, we shall strike and drive out these Congress goondas as well. They have today established a rule of lathis, bullets in the country.

We believe in revolution which will come, and in the flame of which, capitalists, zamindars and Congress leaders will be reduced to ashes, and on their ashes will be established a government of the poor and the downtrodden people of India.”

 

  • The fiery speech led to his conviction and imprisonment by a first-class magistrate on sedition charges, and an appeal to the Patna High Court was struck down.
  •  Then 1962, an appeal by Singh came before the Supreme Court, in which he questioned the constitutional validity of Section 124A, contending it stifled his right to free speech under Article 19 of the Constitution.
  • The top court had to lay down the law in the face of two directly conflicting interpretations of Section 124A by British era courts.
  • The two previous judgments, one from 1942 and the other from 1947, expressed contradictory views on whether the incitement to violence or a tendency to disturb public order was a necessary ingredient of the offence under Section 124A.

What did the Supreme Court rule?

  • In a landmark verdict, a Constitution Bench (five-judge) of the top court upheld the validity of section 124A (sedition) of the IPC, but also attempted to restrict the colonial-era law’s scope for misuse by trying to demarcate the difference between which acts amounted to sedition and which ones did not.
  • It said that any act that had the “effect of subverting the Government” by violent means or creating public disorder would come within the definition of sedition.
  • It also upheld Section 505 (statements conducive to public mischief) as constitutionally valid.
  • However, the court ruled that disapproval of the measures of government with a view to their improvement or alteration by lawful means is not sedition.
  • It held that “comments, however strongly worded, expressing disapprobation of actions of the Government, without exciting those feelings which generate the inclination to cause public disorder by acts of violence” would not attract the penal offence.
  • A citizen has a right to say or write whatever he likes about the Government, or its measures, by way of criticism or comment, so long as he does not incite people to violence against the Government established by law or with the intention of creating public disorder.
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