Colonial law struck down

The striking down of Section 124A makes it imperative to revisit all misused laws

The striking down, by a single bench of the Lahore High Court, of Article 124A of the Pakistan Penal Code has deprived the executive of one of its favourite tools in hounding opponents and critics. This anti-sedition law had been used by the government to silence criticism, and had been introduced by the British Raj when it found its oppressive apparatus insufficient to contain the rising tide of resistance to it. It continued after Partition, and was used by successive governments as a means of control.

Its most recent use was to register FIRs against PTI leaders Shahbaz Gill and Azam Swati, who were booked and then for attempting to incite mutiny. The striking down of this law saves both of them from being tried for the offence of sedition, and prevents FIRs being registered against all those PTI social media activists who might have posted material against the previous or present COAS. One reason the law was kept on the books was that it provided an easy means of preventing criticism of the military. Freedom of speech was not allowed to override it, and the previous arrangement, whereby the judiciary validated any actions the military took, no matter how badly they violated the Constitution, kep it on the books for 76 years. Now, however, it has been struck down.

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However, this should be regarded as a culmination, but should be seen merely as a beginning. There is the practice of registering multiple cases under Section 124A, so that the accused (some opponent of the regime) either has to get bail in multiple cases, or else is paraded throughout the country, going from one court to answer the charge. As sedition is now committeed on the electronic media, those FIRs can be registered anywhere that someone could have seen the offending material. Considering that a post in Timbuktoo in the depths of Africa, might be seen in the icy wastes of Tierra del Fuego at the tip of South America, that law is made to be abused. It would be bad enough if only colonial-era laws were thus abused, but even post-Independence laws are used not to fight crime, but dissenting opinions. The Anti-Terrorist Act is a case in point. While terrorism is rising, the ATA is being invoked against opponents so as to deny them bail. All laws need to be examined, and independence should mean freedom from tools of oppression inherited from a Raj frightened of another Mutiny.

The Editorial Department of Pakistan Today can be contacted at: [email protected].


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