While Section 124-A has often been used to curb various dissenting voices, journalists have been among the most affected ones, recently with several of them slapped with sedition in the past few years. Last July, two journalists Patricia Mukhim and Anuradha Bhasin filed a petition challenging the constitutional validity of offences of section 124-A.
On Wednesday, the Supreme court of India ordered colonial-era sedition law under section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code, to be put in abeyance, until the government reconsiders its provisions. Speaking with Outlook, Bhasin welcomed this decision, “It’s a step forward because successive governments have misused it to crush voices of dissenting people, more so in the last 10 years.”
In January 2021 five prominent journalists – Rajdeep Sardesai, Mrinal Pande, Zafar Agha, Paresh Nath, Anant Nath, and Vinod K Jose -- were booked under sedition law in five states over allegedly “spreading fake news of a farmer’s death during tractor rally”.
In response to that several press bodies including the Press Club of India, Editors Guild of India, Indian Women's Press Corps (IWPC), Delhi Union of Journalists (DUJ) and Indian Journalists Union (IJU) condemned the filing of sedition cases against journalists soon after this case and termed it an “undeclared emergency” situation.
124-A says, “Whoever, by 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”.
Senior Journalist Rajdeep Sardesai who has a sedition case on him described the interim court order as “historic”. Taking to Twitter, this is how he reacted, “Two cheers to the Supreme Court bench and Chief Justice of India! Third, when law is finally struck off!”
HISTORIC indeed! A 19th century Colonial law that was being grossly misused in post 47 India is put on hold. Two cheers to the SC bench and CJI! Third when law is finally struck off!👍👍 https://t.co/MNuAO0JpYo— Rajdeep Sardesai (@sardesairajdeep) May 11, 2022
Vinod K. Jose, executive editor of the Caravan Magazine, who also has a sedition case registered against him in Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, Haryana, Karnataka and Delhi, said, “Theoretically speaking, that’s 10 fewer headaches for me, & many other journalists like me.”
“But the question is will the Centre due to sedition law what UPA (government) did to Prevention of Terrorism Act — reinvent and weaponise Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act & other laws further?” he wrote on Twitter.
In April 2021, Kerala Journalist Siddiqui Kappan was charged under section 124-A along with several other sections of IPC, by UP police, when he came to cover Hathras' rape case of a young Dalit girl.
Several other journalists like Kishore Chandra Wangkhem from Manipur for a Facebook post. Dhaval Patel from Gujarat wrote a story speculating the replacement of CM in the state. Rahul Kulkarni from Maharashtra for “spreading fake news” about passenger trains for migrant labourers in Maharashtra in the wake of the first nationwide Corona lockdown in 2020.
Others like Kamal Shukla in Chhattisgarh and Tsewang Rigzin in Leh were also booked for Facebook posts. Among the recent cases, Kashmiri Journalist Fahad Shah was arrested under charges of sedition in February this year. In many of these cases, the court later granted bail.
While quashing the sedition case against late journalist Vinod dua in January 2021, the apex court had cited the Kedar Nath Singh case, 1962 in which five judges bench made it clear that “allegedly seditious speech and expression may be punished only if the speech is an ‘incitement’ to ‘violence’, or ‘public disorder’”.