Sedition

This article is written by Divya Raisharma, a law student at Government Law College, Mumbai. This is an exhaustive article on sedition law that covers all the essential aspects and recent developments on sedition. A comparison of sedition laws across various countries has also been done.

This article has been published by Sneha Mahawar.

Table of Contents

Introduction 

Sedition is an offence against the state, and it is covered in the Indian Penal Code as Section 124A. Sedition penalises any material which can bring hatred, contempt, or disaffection for the government and has the potential to incite violence or public disorder in the nation. Sedition is not said to be done when criticism is done to disapprove and alter measures or administrative actions of the government. It is a widely criticised and misused section, mainly used to crack down on dissent against the government. It is alleged to hinder the exercise of freedom of speech and expression by the people. There has been recent development towards its removal as an offence.

History of sedition

In the original act of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) of 1860, sedition was not present as an offence. It was the amendment of the year 1870 that introduced sedition to the Indian Penal Code. Sedition was a gag on the voices of freedom and independence in India. It was a weapon of law against Bal Gangadhar Tilak, Mahatma Gandhi, Bhagat Singh, Jawaharlal Nehru, and many others.

The section of sedition was followed word to word. Many were convicted for invoking ill-will against the government even if there was no violence followed by this. But the scenario changed when the Federal Court (the highest judicial authority in British India) in the case of Niharendu Dutt Majumdar v King Emperor (1942) interpreted sedition as an offence only when it incites public disorder or violence.

After a while, in the case of King Emperor v Sadashiv Narayan Bhalerao (1947), the Privy Council in Britain took up the issue of the interpretation of sedition. The Privy Council rejected the Federal Court’s interpretation. It was held that the application of sedition does not require incitement to public disorder or violence. This interpretation was followed in practice till the reign of the Britishers in India.

After Independence, the Constituent Assembly dropped sedition from the Constitution of India. This was due to KM Munshi. He proposed to remove sedition as a reasonable restriction on freedom of speech and expression as well. 

In 1951, the first amendment to the Constitution limited the freedom of speech and expression by adding “public order” as a reasonable restriction in Article 19(2)

Later, the Indira Gandhi government made Section 124A a cognisable offence (where an arrest can be made without a warrant) by the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1973

What is sedition

As per Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, sedition is when a person brings or attempts to bring hatred or contempt, or which excites disaffection or attempts to do so towards the government of India by way of words (written or spoken), signs, visual representation, or any act. 

As per explanation 1 of the section, the term “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. Enmity is hostility or ill will between persons.  

With the judgment of the Supreme Court in Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962), the offence of sedition is applicable only if it is accompanied by incitement or a call for violence. Hence, Section 124A is to be read with Kedarnath Singh’s judgment, and sedition will be applied only if it leads or is likely to lead to “public disorder” or “violence.” 

Punishment for sedition

As per section 124A, punishment for sedition is to be one of the following:

  1. Imprisonment for up to 3 years
  2. Imprisonment for life
  3. Imprisonment for life along with fine
  4. Imprisonment for up to 3 years along with fine
  5. Only fine

The decision regarding the quantum of punishment to be awarded to the convict is that of the judge presiding over the trial proceedings.

What constitutes sedition

Sedition can be summarized into the following points:

  1. There must be words, written or spoken, signs, visual representation, or any such act;
  2. Such an act should bring or attempts to bring hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection;
  3. Such hatred, contempt, or disaffection must be towards any government established by law in India; and
  4. It must have led to the incitement of violence or public disorder.

Elements of sedition

Intention 

The intention of the person is of grave importance. It makes or breaks the case. The intention of the person as a whole is examined, taking into account his speeches, the context, and the general drift. The desire harboured by the person accused must be to invoke the feeling of hatred, contempt, or disaffection in the people towards the government. This desire must be coupled with the intention to incite violence or public disorder. It is also important that the person knows that such an act or attempt will result in the said reaction. In sedition, the intention of the language used is punished, no matter its success. Hence, the person should have willingly done the act with the above-mentioned desire and knowledge. 

Act

The act under the Section is the act of speaking or writing words, making signs or visual representations, or any other such act. Sedition can be done through any material.

For example,

  • Letter
  • Published article
  • Videography
  • Poster
  • Speech, etc.

It is important to note that publication of some kind is necessary to bring a case of sedition. Any other act may include the act of distribution, republication, or circulation of seditious material.

The intended act is done towards the government established by law in India

It is of grave importance that the intended act be done towards a government in India. When the government established by law is undermined and its continuity is threatened, the visible symbol of the state is in danger. The stability of the government is of grave importance. Any threat towards its stability and continuity is an offence against the State. This is when sedition comes into play. 

Hence, if the act is done toward 

  • Private person 
  • Association
  • Government company 
  • Political party
  • A foreign government, or
  • Officer of the state (including a soldier, sailor, or airman in the Army, Navy or Air Force).

 It would not come under the offence of sedition. 

Violence or public disorder

The incitement of violence or public disorder is a conditional element of sedition. It is necessary for the act of sedition to cause, or be likely to cause, violence or public disorder. There must be a reasonable link (nexus) connecting the alleged seditious material and the violence or disorder. A far-fetched assumption that the violence or public disorder could have been caused by the alleged seditious material is not enough for the conviction of the accused. It is the job of the prosecutor to prove the proximity of the link between the alleged seditious material and the incitement of violence or public disorder.

Exceptions to sedition

Explanations 2 and 3 set forth the exception to the offence of sedition, that is, comments expressing disapprobation of

  1. Measures of the government with a view to obtaining their alteration by lawful means. (Explanation 2)
  2. Administrative or other action of the government, provided that the comment doesn’t excite, or attempt to excite hatred, contempt, or disaffection. (Explanation 3)

As per Kedarnath Singh’s judgment, comments made under explanations 2 and 3 must not be made so as to incite public disorder or violence.

Explanation 2 of Section 124A

Elements of explanation 2 are:

  1. A comment was made.
  2. The said comment was disapproving of a measure of the government.
  3. It was made with the view of obtaining the alteration of the government measures by lawful means.
  4. The said comment must not lead to public disorder or violence. (Kedarnath Singh judgment)

If any disapproving comment was made towards a government measure, and it was made with the view of obtaining changes in such measures lawfully, then it is covered under explanation 2. Hence, a disapproving comment on the government’s financial policies with a view to starting a peaceful discourse with the government and obtaining their alteration would not constitute sedition.

Explanation 3 of Section 124A

Explanation 3 is a conditional exception. Here, a disapproving comment made on an administrative or other action of the government constitutes sedition only if it excites or attempts to excite hatred, contempt, or disaffection with the potential to cause public disorder or violence.

The immunity under explanation 3 is dependent on the following factors: 

  1. Whether the comment expressed disapproval of the government’s administrative or other such action;
  2. Whether such comment, in fact, excited (or attempts to excite) hatred, contempt, or disaffection towards the government;
  3. Whether these feelings can generate the inclination to cause public disorder by an act of violence (Kedarnath Singh judgment).

The exceptions to sedition protect bona fide criticism. As a result, an article on criticism of bills and policies of the government would not be held seditious. 

As per Kedarnath Singh’s judgment, a person can say or write any such thing about the government, its actions, or its measures, as long as he does not incite or attempt to incite people to violence against the government of India. 

Defences to a charge of sedition

  1. That the person did not speak or write the words, or make the sign or representations, or did not do any other act in question; or
  2. That he did not thereby bring or attempt to bring into hatred or contempt, or excite or attempt to excite disaffection; or
  3. That such disaffection was not towards the Government of India; or
  4. There was no incitement of public disorder or violence against the government of India.

How does sedition infringe freedom of speech and expression

Freedom of speech and expression is guaranteed to every citizen of India under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution subject to restrictions. Two of these reasonable restrictions are public order and incitement to an offence. 

Taking this into regard, when the Supreme Court was deciding the constitutionality of sedition in Kedarnath Singh’s case, they took an interpretation of the law that says that the offence of sedition is to be followed by incitement to violence or public disorder. Due to this interpretation, it was held that sedition was constitutional and that it reasonably restricted freedom of speech and expression.

But, the practicality is far away from theory. Due to the vagueness of the Section with words such as “disaffection,” the authorities put charges of sedition on any speech that hurts their political agenda and draw an unintelligible link between the speech and the supposed violence that could have followed. 

The infringement of freedom of speech and expression by sedition can be seen by the booking of students, stand-up comedians, young people, and others for freely criticizing the government. 

Sedition: an outdated law

Sedition as a law in India was introduced by an amendment to the IPC during the reign of the Britishers. It showcased the colonial intention of curbing the Indian freedom movements, rebellions, and dissents against the British reign in India. The phrase “government established by law in India” was originally the phrase “government established by law in British India.’ Sedition was widely used to silence freedom fighters like Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi by word of law. As per the interpretation of the Privy Council of Britain, it even covered cases where no violence or public disorder, or incitement to violence or public disorder, was present.

In a modern democracy, dissent and criticism are important to hold the government accountable to the public at large. Exercise of freedom of speech and expression is to be guaranteed by a democratic government, more so ever when it is exercised against the government itself. Sedition is ill-suited to the modern political landscape.

In present times, it is used to break political movements by slapping the section of sedition on the activists, as seen during the CAA (Citizenship Amendment Act) protests. It is used by the government as a tool for politics and to curb healthy dissent. The guidelines set by the Kedarnath case are not usually followed. Hence, Indian courts and many jurists have called for the removal of the colonial outdated law. 

The legal history of sedition law

Tara Singh Gopi Chand v. The State (1951)

This was the first case challenging the constitutionality of sedition in independent India. Giving reference to the Ramesh Thapar case’s mention of sedition, the High Court accepted the Federal Court’s interpretation of sedition where incitement to violence or public disorder was necessary. The judgment held that since the restriction on freedom of speech and expression is restricted outside the scope of the reasonable restriction. The judgment held that sedition restricts freedom of speech and expression. 

Sabir Raza v. The State (1955)

In the Sabir Raza case, the Allahabad High Court held that public order can not be passed off as a restriction on speech and expressions which excite disaffection towards the government. The Court also made an interpretation that a threat to the security of the state can be said to exist only when there is a threat to the system of the government. A mere threat to the person holding a position in government or an exciting feeling of hatred, contempt, or disaffection towards the system is not a threat to the security of the state. Hence, sedition was held to be unconstitutional. 

Ram Nandan v. State of Uttar Pradesh (1959)

In the case against an agricultural labor activist, the Allahabad High Court held sedition to be unconstitutional. It was observed that restrictions on freedom of speech and expression could not be justified because of the possibility of public disorder. A democratic political ideology that is dissimilar to that of the ruling elite cannot be said to be a threat to the state.

Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962)

The Supreme Court of India took up the case of constitutionality for the first time in this case. The Court, contrary to the judgments by the high courts, held sedition to be constitutional. But, the Court made a key addition to the law of sedition. Following the Federal Court’s interpretation, It held that sedition can only be valid if it intends to incite violence. Even the exceptions to the offense of sedition would be applicable only if they didn’t lead to public disorder by violence. The Court also published guidelines to be followed in the application of Section 124A. 

Common Cause v. Union of India (2016)

The writ petition filed by the Common Cause NGO was disposed of by the bench headed by the Chief Justice of India. The court stated that the principles of Kedarnath were to be followed by the authorities. The court found no need to revisit the issue. 

S.G Vombatkere v. Union of India (2022)

The Supreme Court of India has agreed to hear the matter of the constitutionality of sedition. The central government is currently in the process of re-examining the matter. The matter is currently on hold till the re-examination is completed. The court also stated that sedition is put on abeyance till the re-examination. 

Sedition law in India

Many other laws are applied alongside sedition, or which have some elements of sedition in them. They are as follows:

Abetment to sedition

Abetment is applied under Section 107 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC). Abetment can be of any offence including sedition. Abetment to sedition is when a person:

  1. Instigates someone to commit sedition, or
  2. Engages in a conspiracy to commit it, or
  3. Intentionally aids a person to commit sedition.

Punishment:

  1. When a person abets sedition, the person who abetted would be liable to the punishment of imprisonment for up to 7 years in addition to a fine, even if sedition is not committed. 
  2. If the act of sedition causes hurt to anyone, then the punishment for the abettor is imprisonment for up to 14 years in addition to a fine.
  3. When an abettor voluntarily conceals the existence of the design to commit sedition with the intention of facilitating the commission of sedition, punishment is
  1. If the abettor is a public servant, imprisonment is up to 10 years.
  2. In any other case,

If sedition is committed, punishable with imprisonment up to 7 years with a fine.

If sedition is not committed, it is punishable with imprisonment for 3 years with a fine. 

Criminal Conspiracy to commit sedition

As per Section 120A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), along with Section 124A, when two or more persons agree to do or cause to be done sedition, it is called criminal conspiracy to commit sedition. It is important that there either exists an agreement to commit sedition, or a circumstance where sedition is incidental to a legal agreement between the parties. The offence of criminal conspiracy can be applied only when there exists an agreement to break the law, or where some act is done towards the commission of sedition in the absence of an agreement.

Punishment as per Section 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC):

As per the Section, the punishment for criminal conspiracy for sedition is the same as the punishment for abetment of sedition.

  1. When a person engages in a criminal conspiracy to commit sedition, the person would be liable to the punishment of imprisonment for up to 7 years, in addition to a fine, even if sedition is not committed. 
  2. If the act of sedition causes harm to anyone, then the punishment for the accused is imprisonment for up to 14 years in addition to a fine.
  3. When a criminal conspirator voluntarily conceals the existence of the design to commit sedition with the intention of facilitating the commission of sedition, punishment is
  1. If the criminal conspirator is a public servant, the imprisonment term is up to 10 years.
  2. In any other case,

If sedition is committed, it is punishable with imprisonment of up to 7 years with a fine.

If sedition is not committed, it is punishable by imprisonment for 3 years with a fine. 

Sedition done by several persons in furtherance of common intention

As per Section 34, when a criminal act is done by several persons in furtherance of the common intention of all, each person is liable for that act in the same manner as if it were done by him alone. This is the concept of constructive criminality. 

Hence, when several persons commit sedition in furtherance of common intention, for example, the spread of violence, they all would be individually liable for sedition.

Statements conducing to public mischief 

As per section 505(1)(b) and (c) of the Indian Penal Code, it is an offence to make, publish, or circulate any statement, rumour, or report –

  1. With intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, fear or alarm to the public, or to any section of the public whereby any person may be induced to commit an offence against the State or against the public tranquility; or
  2. With intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community.

Hence, 

  • Making, publishing, or circulation of a seditious material with the intent to cause violence or public disorder;
  • Making, publishing, or circulating any material with the intent to cause any section of public to commit sedition; or
  • Making, publishing, or circulating any seditious material with intent to incite any class to commit violence against another 

would be covered under section 505(1)(b) and section 505(1)(c) with punishment as imprisonment of up to 3 years, or fine, or both.

Misuse of sedition laws in recent years

The section of sedition equates “the government of India” to “the nation of India“. This, in turn, causes strong-worded materials, though in the spirit of patriotism, to be labeled as anti-national. The section gags dissent against the government, no matter the truth it holds. Sedition is rampantly used by corrupt and dictatorial governments as a tool to assert and maintain their power. 

Ambiguous words such as ‘disaffection’, ‘hatred’, and ‘contempt’ make sedition easier to manipulate by the authorities. Based on such ambiguous words, charge sheets are filed against a person and it takes years before the result of the trial comes out. Till then, the accused is detained with hardly any chance of bail as a respite. Even the conviction punishment for sedition is harsher than normal, that is, life imprisonment. This works as a perfect prevention and deterrence system toward dissent against the government.

As per the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB) data for the year 2020, the number of cases registered in section 124A amounted to 73 with 0 convictions, and in the year 2019. 

  • The number of cases registered is 93.
  • The number of charge sheets filed under section 124A amounted to 40.
  • Only one person was convicted of sedition.
  • Only 30 cases’ trial were completed. 
  • The conviction rate under section 124A was 3.3%. 

Some notable cases of misuse of sedition in recent times are:

  1. Malayalam journalist Siddique Kappan was booked for sedition when he was proceeding to cover the Hathras gang rape case. 
  2. Three Kashmiri scholarship students were booked under sedition for allegedly celebrating the Pakistani cricket team’s win against India in the T20 World Cup.

Recent judicial developments regarding the removal of Section 124A from the India Penal Code 

The Supreme Court of India has taken up once again the question of the constitutionality of sedition as an offence. It has ruled that Section 124A is to be kept in abeyance in the matter of S.G Vombatkere V. Union of India (2022). The top court has ruled that all new and pending trials, proceedings, and appeals are suspended, till the Center re-examines Section 124A. 

The bench headed by the Chief Justice of India passed an order that,

  1. All pending trials, appeals, and proceedings under Section 124A are suspended for now.
  2. In cases where sedition is present with other sections, the proceedings of such cases are allowed if the court holds the opinion that the accused would not face a disadvantage.
  3. If a new case is registered under Section 124A, the parties can approach the court of relief. Here, the courts are requested to judge, keeping in mind the abeyance of sedition by the Supreme Court and the clear stance of the Union government.
  4. The government should refrain from registering any new cases, conducting investigations, and taking any coercive action under Section 124A.

Case laws on sedition

Vinod Dua vs. Union of India & Ors (2021). 

Facts

  • Vinod Dua, a senior journalist, had his own YouTube show titled “The Vinod Dua Show.” 
  • He made statements on the lack of testing facilities with the government and was alleged to have made false statements regarding the availability of PPE kits with a comment that there was no sufficient information on them. 
  • He went on to state that the export of ventilators and sanitizers was stopped later than stated. 
  • He also stated that the PM has garnered votes for election through acts of terrorism. 
  • He talked about the major labour migration during the COVID-19 lockdown. 
  • It was alleged that Vinod Dua made the statements with the intention of inciting panic, hatred, contempt, and disaffection followed by violence towards the government. 

Issues raised

  1. Whether the petitioner committed the offence of sedition under Section 124A by his comments? 

Held 

The Supreme Court, while quashing the charge of Section 124A observed that, 

  • The statements made in the respected circumstances can at best be termed as an expression of disapprobation of the actions of the government and its functionaries so that the prevailing situation can be addressed quickly and efficiently. They were not made with the intention of inciting violence or public disorder. Hence, they would be covered as an exception to sedition.  
  • The petitioner was within the permissible limits laid down in the decision of this Court in Kedar Nath Singh. It may be that certain factual details in the statement were not completely correct. However, considering the general drift of the YouTube show and all the statements as a whole, it cannot be said that the petitioner crossed the limits set out in the decision of this Court in Kedar Nath Singh.

State v Disha A. Ravi (2021)

Facts

  • Disha Ravi, a Bengaluru environmental activist, was named the editor of a toolkit made for international online support of the farmers’ protests in India. 
  • The toolkit document was created by an organisation called the ‘Poetic Justice Foundation,’ a pro-Khalistan organization. 
  • The State submitted that some of the content and links in the toolkit were objectionable. 
  • The toolkit documents circulating on social media were alleged to be seditious in nature showing disaffection against the government.
  • The state submitted information about a Zoom meeting attended by Disha, Shantanu, and the co-founders of the PJF. 
  • The state contended that the defendant and Shantanu were in touch through messaging apps. 
  • Shantanu was present in New Delhi during the violent clash. And hence, it was alleged that Disha was in a conspiracy to incite violence in India with the perpetrators of the January 26, 2021 clash. 

Issues raised

Whether the accused was involved in peaceful protest and dissent or she was actually involved in seditious activities? 

Held

The court granted her bail and commented that 

  • The citizens are the conscience keepers of the government in any democratic nation.
  • They cannot be put behind bars simply because they choose to disagree with the state’s policies.
  • The purpose of engagement with people of dubious credentials is important. Merely engaging is not relevant.
  • There was no direct link between the act of the defendant and the violence of January 26, 2021.
  • The right to seek a global audience without any geographical barriers to communication is included in Article 19.

Arun Jaitley v. The State of U.P. (2015)

Facts

  • Arun Jaitley is a senior supreme court lawyer.
  • The applicant wrote and posted a well-written critical article titled ‘NJAC Judgement-An Alternative View’ on his Facebook page.
  • The article was based on the Supreme Court judgment which set aside the act passed to replace the collegium system of judicial appointments on NJAC.
  • The judicial Magistrate took sou-moto cognizance and booked him under Section 124A and Section 505 of the IPC.

Issues raised

Whether the content of the article resulted in the commission of the offence of sedition under Section 124A?

Held

The Allahabad High Court quashed the magistrate’s order and commented that:

  • Using very strong words to criticise the measures of the government or acts of public officials is not sedition.
  • The article was not seditious. It only intended to exercise its freedom of speech with the view of striking a balance between the two pillars of the country.
  • Disrespect of the judiciary does not constitute the offence of sedition.

Sanskar Marathe vs The State of Maharashtra (2015)

Facts

  • Aseem Trivedi, a political cartoonist and social activist, displayed several cartoons at a public meeting in Mumbai. 
  • He uploaded some of the cartoons online on a website called ‘Cartoons Against Corruption.’
  • He was accused of defaming Parliament, the Constitution of India, and the Ashok Emblem, and also of sedition under Section 124A.
  • A non-bailable warrant was issued by the Additional Metropolitan Magistrate.
  • The Metropolitan Magistrate ordered his release on bail.
  • It was decided to drop the charges of sedition registered against Aseem Trivedi.

Issued raised

What is the legal position of the invocation of Section 124A in a matter where the police invoked the charges of sedition when prima facie Aseem Trivedi was entitled to exercise his right in Article 19?

Held

The Public Interest Litigation was disposed of as the government issued guidelines to police personnel stating the pre-conditions to be fulfilled when invoking Section 124A. The court observed that:

  • Disloyalty to the government is not the same as commenting in strong words upon its measures or acts, so as to ameliorate the condition of the people or to secure the cancellation or alteration of those acts or measures by lawful means.
  • Freedom of expression includes freedom of communication and the right to propagate or publish an opinion.
  • Open criticism of government policies and operations is not a ground for restricting expression.
  • The freedom of speech and expression is available to express indignation against corruption in the political system. This cannot be encroached upon when there is no incitement to violence or public disorder.

Queen-Empress v. Jogendra Chunder Bose (1891) 

Facts

  • The Bengali newspaper, ‘Bangobasi’ criticised the Age of Consent Act and accused the British government of meddling with Hindu culture.
  • The proprietor, editor, manager, and printer of the newspaper were charged with sedition.
  • The identity of the author was anonymous.

Issues raised

  • Whether the article was published comes under the purview of sedition?
  • Whether the accused are calculated to create disaffection in the minds of readers?
  • Whether the accused intended to create such feeling by their circulation?

Held

As the jury was unable to come to a decision, a retrial was scheduled for the first sedition case in India. But since the accused issued an apology for the articles, the prosecution was terminated. 

Some important explanations were made by Chief Judge Petheram to the jury:

  • Disaffection and disapprobation are not synonymous. 
  • Disaffection is any feeling contrary to affection. Disaffection is a lack of affection, in other words, dislike or hatred.
  • Disapprobation means simple disapproval. A person can disapprove and also have affection for the same thing.
  • Even a publisher can be held for sedition. Sedition is not restricted only to the writer of the material.
  • When words are calculated and intended to excite disaffection against the government, then it comes under sedition. To be followed by disturbance or disaffection, is not a requisite condition.
  • There is a difference between the government and the administration. 

Sedition laws in other countries 

Sedition laws in United States of America

Even the land of freedom has not shied away from curbing dissent using sedition law. In the face of the quasi-war with France, the Federalist government passed the Aliens and Sedition laws, aimed at French-sympathising aliens and non-citizens living in the United States of America. One of these series of laws was the Sedition Act. The sedition act of 1798 made it a crime for Americans to publish, speak, or print any false or malicious statement about the federal government. Under this, journalists for Democratic-Republicans were targeted, as press papers were the major political tools for political parties. This law was immensely unpopular with the public. As a result, the upcoming Republican administration expired the Sedition Act on March 3, 1801.

In the midst of World War I, the Government of America passed the Sedition Act of 1918. The Act made it illegal to incite disloyalty within the military; disloyalty towards the government, the Constitution, the military, or the flag; or supporting countries at war with America. This Act, however, was repealed by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Currently, seditious conspiracy and treason are crimes under Federal Criminal Code in Article 2384 and Article 2381 respectively. 

Sedition laws in United Kingdom 

During the reign of the King, sedition could be said to be synonymous with treason. The Statute of Westminster of 1275 said that the divine right of the King and the principles of feudal society were not to be questioned. Seditious libel was made equivalent to blasphemous libel, as the State and the Church were one and the same. The United Kingdom criminalised the act of sedition with the Sedition Act of 1661.

But, in 1977, the Law Reforms Committee (currently known as the Law Commission) published a report suggesting the removal of the provisions of sedition. The democratic government also abolished the blasphemous libel by the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act of 2008. Following this, in the next year, sedition and seditious libel were abolished by the Coroners and Justice Act of 2009.

It is interesting to note that the United Kingdom, which is the basis of Indian law, has done away with sedition while India has not.

Sedition laws in Hong Kong

Britishers introduced the law of sedition by way of the Sedition Ordinance of 1938. The law, later on, became part of the Crime Ordinance of 1971. It was typically deployed to target the pro-China factions in British China. It criminalised seditious words, publication and possession of seditious material, and the commission of any act with seditious intent. 

Currently, the scope of the offence of sedition has been narrowed down and it must be accompanied by the intention of causing violence or public disorder. However, the Chinese government has implemented a national security law in Hong Kong, which has faced huge resistance. Though the national security law covers various other offences such as treason, subversion, secession, etc., Law Scholar Simon Young says it has split up the sedition law into multiple discrete offences with harsher punishment. 

Sedition laws in Russia

Russia has criminalized sedition in the name of treason and espionage. The Russian Criminal Code criminalized the acts done by 

  1. Russian citizen of 

(a) disclosing state secrets 

(b) rendering assistance to a foreign state, foreign organization, or their representative 

in hostile activities detrimental to Russia’s security as treason.

  1. Foreign national or a stateless person of 

(a) transfer, collection, theft, or keeping for transferring the state secret to a foreign state, foreign organization, or their representative 

(b) transfer or collection of other information under the order of a foreign intelligence service 

in hostile activities detrimental to Russia’s security as espionage.

Recently, Russia has passed two bills that criminalise blatant disrespect of the state, its officials, and Russian society, and the sharing of false information of public interest, which is shared as fake news. 

Conclusion 

Sedition is a colonial law supporting the notion of “King is Supreme”. It has no place in a modern world with human liberties at its core. Sedition ought to be abolished to ensure the exercise of the right to dissent. Healthy dissent can contribute to the development of the nation, and hence, it must not be penalised. But sedition is just one axe in a toolshed. Even after the abolishing of the sedition law, the right to dissent would still be curbed by the misuse of UAPA, NSA, preventive detention laws, etc. It is necessary to foster an environment of dialogue and tolerance for different opinions in the nation. Only then would India be able to speak with its rightful voice.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

  1. What is sedition?

When a person brings or attempts to bring hatred, contempt, or disaffection towards the government, such an act incites or is likely to incite violence or public disorder. It must be by way of words, signs, visual representation, or any such act.

  1. What is the punishment for sedition?

Punishment for sedition is the following:

  • Imprisonment for up to 3 years, or
  • Imprisonment for life, or
  • Imprisonment for life along with a fine, or
  • Imprisonment for up to 3 years along with a fine, or
  • Only fine.

3. Why is sedition outdated?

Sedition is outdated because it represents colonial intent and robs people of their right to speech and dissent.

  1. Is sedition abolished in India?

Sedition has not been abolished in India. Currently, it is put on hold while the matter of its abolishment is taken up by the Supreme Court.

  1. Is sedition unconstitutional?

As per the Supreme Court of India’s past judgments, sedition is not unconstitutional.

  1. Is sedition the only law that restricts the right to speech and expression

No, The fundamental right to speech and expression can be restricted for the following reasons:

  • Security of the nation
  • Sovereignty and integrity of the nation
  • Contempt of court 
  • Defamation 
  • Public order 
  • Decency 
  • Morality 
  • Friendly relations with other states  
  • Incitement to offence

As per which, laws such as 

  • Defamation. (Section 499
  • Promoting enmity between different groups. (Section 153A)
  • Outraging religious feelings or insulting either religion or the religious beliefs of a class. (Section 295A)
  • Uttering any words, or making any sound, in the hearing of any person, or making a gesture, with the deliberate intention of wounding their religious feelings. (Section 298
  • Sexual harassment (Section 354A), etc., 

restrict the freedom of speech and expression to a certain extent.

References 

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/sedition-law-explained-origin-history-legal-challenge-supreme-court-7911041/

https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-kedar-nath-singh-judgment-the-1962-verdict-sc-quoted-in-vinod-dua-sedition-case-7343003/

http://www.rmlnlu.ac.in/webj/sedition.pdf

https://ncrb.gov.in/sites/default/files/CII%202020%20Volume%201.pdf


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