The Indian Supreme court has suspended Section 124A IPC, known as sedition law. Many expect Pakistan’s SC also to review the law.
The sedition laws of India and Pakistan stem from a common ancestor: Section 124A of the 1860 Indian Penal Code (IPC) was originally introduced by the British government in 1870.
The British needed the sedition law. The plunder of India gave birth to resistance which the rulers tried to crush by force. With the passage of time laws had to be enacted to keep the restive population under control. The idea underlying the sedition law was that the local population was obligated to feel affection for the British rulers and remain loyal to it. The principal target of the sedition law were the leaders of the freedom movement.
The colonial relic however continued to thrive in both free India and Pakistan. In India every ruling party used the law against its political opponents, most of all the BJP which widened its scope to target minorities, ideological dissenters and rights activists. Police in Indian Occupied Kashmir last year jailed three students for sedition after they celebrated India’s defeat against arch-rival Pakistan in a cricket match. A 22-year-old climate change activist was arrested for sedition for allegedly creating a “toolkit” to aid anti-government farmer protests.
In Pakistan, sedition cases have been filed against politicians who happened to be on the wrong side of the establishment including nationalist leaders demanding autonomy and equal right, poets with leftist orientation, human rights defenders, student activists, and independent journalists.
Courts in Pakistan have laid down a number of mandatory guidelines on how Section 124A should be applied. These include the injunction that complaints could only be initiated by the federal or provincial government which must give reasons explaining their decision to institute such proceedings.
In practice, the police and lower courts have routinely flouted such directions. Organisers and participants of the students’ solidarity march in Lahore, as well as those peacefully protesting the arbitrary arrests of political activists in Islamabad, have been charged with sedition. Even when there was no conviction, the charges caused enough harassment and weakened the movement for freedom of expression. What is needed is to strike down a law that is no more required in an independent country with an elected government.