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Sedition Law - SC to hear challenging validity of sedition law Today

Sedition Law - SC to hear challenging validity of sedition law Today

Today, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear a batch of pleas, challenging the validity of the colonial-era sedition law.

The Centre is expected to apprise the court of the steps taken so far with regard to reviewing the contentious penal provision.

Last year, the Supreme Court extended its May 11 direction putting on hold the sedition law and the consequential registration of FIRs while granting additional time to the government to take "appropriate steps" for reviewing the provision.

The bench comprising Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud and Justice J B Pardiwala has listed a number of petitions challenging the validity of the law for hearing.

The central government, which has to review the provision, on October 31 last year, had told the bench that it be granted some more time as "something may happen in the winter session of Parliament".

Attorney General R Venkataramani had said the issue has been under consideration of authorities concerned and moreover, there is "no reason to worry" in view of the May 11 interim order, which put the use of the provision on hold.

"Mr R Venkataramani, the attorney general, submits that in terms of the directions issued by this court in order dated May 11, 2022, the matter is still engaging the attention of the relevant authorities. He submits that some additional time be granted so that appropriate steps can be taken by the government," the bench had said.

"In view of the interim directions issued by this court...dated May 11, 2022, every interest and concern stand protected and as such there would be no prejudice to anyone. At his request, we adjourn the matter to the second week of January 2023," it had said.

In response to a query on whether the government had issued any communication to states on the penal provision, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta had said the directions in consonance with the apex court's order have been sent to the chief secretaries of states In the landmark order passed on May 11, the court had put the contentious law on hold till the Centre completed its promised review of the colonial relic and also asked the Union and state governments not to register any fresh case invoking the offence.

It had also directed that the ongoing probes, pending trials and all proceedings under the sedition law will be kept in abeyance across the country and those in jail on sedition charges could approach the court for bail.

"This court is cognisant of the security interests and the integrity of the State on one hand, and the civil liberties of citizens on the other. There is a requirement to balance both sets of considerations, which is a difficult exercise," the court had said.

The offence of sedition, which was included in section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in 1890, has been under intense public scrutiny for its use as a tool against expressions of dissent, including on social media.

During the colonial era the sedition law was primarily used to suppress dissent and imprison freedom fighters.

"We expect that till the re-examination of the provision is complete, it will be appropriate not to continue the usage of the aforesaid provision of law by the governments," the top court had said.

Any affected party is at liberty to approach the courts concerned, which are requested to examine the reliefs sought, taking into consideration the present order, it had said.

The Editors Guild of India, Major General (Retd) S G Vombatkere, former Union minister Arun Shourie and the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL) have filed the petitions on the issue. The petitions have contended that the law causes a "chilling effect" on free speech and is an unreasonable restriction on free expression, a fundamental right.

Between 2015 and 2020, 356 cases of sedition -- as defined under section 124A of the IPC -- were registered and 548 people arrested, according to data compiled by the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). However, only 12 people arrested in seven sedition cases were convicted in the six-year period. 

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