When late journalist Vinod Dua was booked under sedition charges following a complaint by a BJP activist Ajay Shyam in Shimla in June 2020, the police asked him to join the investigations even though the state had travel restrictions due to the pandemic.
The FIR against Dua was eventually quashed by the Supreme Court on the ground that “strong words” of disapproval about the government did not amount to sedition. When the apex court on Wednesday ordered that Section 124A should be kept in abeyance till the Union government examines the provision, the lawyer community in Shimla considered it a great reprieve for those booked on frivolous grounds.
Rajneesh Maniktala, a senior advocate at Himachal Pradesh lawyer, says, “It’s better late than never. This section had become a tool for repression for free expression of views.”
Himachal Pradesh Bar Council President Ajay Kochhar said, “After Wednesday’s order, the Centre and state governments will not be able to register any FIR, continue the investigation, or take any coercive steps under the provision."
Kochhar indicated that if the detention or arrest of any person under the sedition law is proved illegal, the state will have to pay the compensation or face legal proceedings.
Former Himachal Pradesh advocate General Shrawan Dogra said, “Even though it’s an interim order but the trials and investigations will be stopped. The accused can seek their release on bail till the government comes out with its response on the provisions.”
Senior advocate of Jammu and Kashmir High Court Mohinder Bhardwaj said that successive governments have used the colonial-era law against students, journalists, intellectuals, and social activists to suppress dissent and free speech.
Last year, former Congress MLA Neeraj Bharti, who was also the Chief Parliamentary Secretary in the previous Congress government, was booked for sedition for his social media posts in which he made some references to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and martyrs. He was arrested before he was granted bail by the court.
“I welcome the Supreme Court order. Till today, the police have not been able to file any charge sheet against me. I will be filing a defamation case against the government very soon,” he told Outlook from Dharamshala.