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Sedition (IPC)

Updated: May 13


Sedition (IPC)
Sedition (IPC)

Content:-



Section 124A Sedition


“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 in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”



Meaning and Explanation

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 defines sedition as any act that aims to bring or attempts to bring hatred, contempt, or excites disaffection towards the government of India through words (spoken or written), signs, visual representation, or any other act.



Explanation 1 of the section clarifies that "disaffection" includes disloyalty and all sentiments of enmity. Enmity, in this context, denotes hostility or ill will between individuals.



The Supreme Court's ruling in Kedarnath Singh v. State of Bihar (1962) established that sedition charges are applicable only when accompanied by incitement or a call for violence.



Therefore, Section 124A must be read in conjunction with the principles outlined in the Kedarnath Singh case. Sedition charges will be upheld only if the act in question leads to or is likely to lead to "public disorder" or "violence."

 
 

What constitutes sedition


  • There must be words, written or spoken, signs, visual representation, or any such act;


  • Such an act should bring or attempts to bring hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection;


  • Such hatred, contempt, or disaffection must be towards any government established by law in India; and


  • It must have led to the incitement of violence or public disorder.


Punishment for sedition


As per Section 124A, the punishment for sedition may include one of the following:


- Imprisonment for up to 3 years


- Imprisonment for life


- Imprisonment for life along with a fine


- Imprisonment for up to 3 years along with a fine


- Only a fine


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



Elements of sedition


  1. Intention: The intention of an individual plays a pivotal role in sedition cases, often determining the outcome. When assessing intention, a comprehensive analysis of the person's overall conduct is conducted, considering their speeches, the surrounding context, and the general direction of their actions.  Central to this assessment is the individual's desire to instil feelings of hatred, contempt, or disaffection towards the government among the public. This desire must be accompanied by an intent to incite violence or public disorder. Moreover, it is crucial that the person is aware that their actions or attempts are likely to provoke such reactions.


In cases of sedition, the intention behind the language used is scrutinised, regardless of its effectiveness. Therefore, it is essential that the individual willingly engages in the act with the aforementioned desire and knowledge of its potential consequences.



  • Act: The act outlined in Section 124A encompasses various forms of expression, including spoken or written words, gestures, visual representations, or any similar actions. Sedition can manifest through any medium capable of conveying the seditious message.

 
 

For instance:


- A letter containing seditious content


- An article published in a newspaper or magazine


- A videographic presentation disseminated online


- A poster displayed in public spaces


- A speech delivered during a public gathering


It's crucial to emphasise that some form of publication is necessary to establish a case of sedition. This publication may involve the distribution, republication, or circulation of seditious material, broadening the scope of the offence beyond mere creation or expression.



  • The intended act is done towards the government established by law in India: It's crucial to emphasise that the intended act must be directed towards the government established by law in India. This requirement underscores the significance of upholding the authority and stability of the Indian government. When actions or expressions undermine the established government and threaten its continuity, they pose a serious risk to the state's symbol and stability.



Sedition specifically targets acts aimed at destabilising the government or inciting public unrest against it. Therefore, actions or expressions targeting private individuals, associations, government-owned companies, political parties, foreign governments, or officers of the state—such as soldiers, sailors, or airmen—do not fall under the purview of sedition. The focus remains on safeguarding the integrity and continuity of the government established by law in India.



  • Violence or public disorder: Inciting violence or public disorder is a crucial aspect of sedition charges, but it's conditional. For an act to qualify as sedition, it must either cause violence or be likely to cause it. This condition requires a reasonable connection, or nexus, between the alleged seditious material and the resulting violence or disorder. Mere speculation or a tenuous link between the material and the disturbance is insufficient for conviction.



The burden falls on the prosecutor to establish this proximity between the seditious content and the incitement of violence or public disorder. They must provide evidence demonstrating how the material directly contributed to or had the potential to lead to violence or unrest. Without this connection, a sedition charge cannot stand.




Leading Case laws

 

  1. Sanskar Marathe vs The State of Maharashtra (2015): In the case of Sanskar Marathe vs The State of Maharashtra (2015), Aseem Trivedi, a political cartoonist and social activist, displayed several cartoons at a public meeting in Mumbai and uploaded some of them on a website called ‘Cartoons Against Corruption.’ Subsequently, he was accused of defaming Parliament, the Constitution of India, and the Ashok Emblem, and was charged with sedition under Section 124A.



A non-bailable warrant was issued by the Additional Metropolitan Magistrate, but the Metropolitan Magistrate later ordered his release on bail. Ultimately, it was decided to drop the charges of sedition registered against Aseem Trivedi.



The legal issue raised in the case questioned the invocation of Section 124A when Aseem Trivedi appeared to be entitled to exercise his right under Article 19.



The Public Interest Litigation was disposed of as the government issued guidelines to police personnel, setting pre-conditions for invoking Section 124A.


The court observed that disloyalty to the government is distinct from commenting in strong terms on its actions or measures to improve the welfare of the people.



Freedom of expression encompasses the freedom to communicate and propagate opinions, and open criticism of government policies is not a justification for restricting expression.


The court emphasised that freedom of speech and expression extends to expressing discontent against corruption in the political system, provided there is no incitement to violence or public disorder.



This case underscored the importance of protecting freedom of expression and the right to criticise government actions without fear of sedition charges.



  • State v Disha A. Ravi (2021): In the case of State v Disha A. Ravi (2021), Disha Ravi, an environmental activist from Bengaluru, was accused of editing a toolkit created by the 'Poetic Justice Foundation,' a pro-Khalistan organisation, in support of the farmers' protests in India. The toolkit contained information and links that were deemed objectionable by the State and circulated on social media platforms. The State alleged that the toolkit was seditious in nature and showed disaffection against the government.

 
 

The State further presented evidence of Disha's participation in a Zoom meeting with the co-founders of the PJF and her communication with another individual, Shantanu, through messaging apps. Shantanu was allegedly present in New Delhi during the violent clash on January 26, 2021, leading to the accusation that Disha was part of a conspiracy to incite violence in India.



The central issue in the case was whether Disha was involved in peaceful protest and dissent or if she was genuinely engaged in seditious activities. The court, while granting her bail, emphasised the importance of citizens as the conscience keepers of the government in a democratic nation.



It stated that individuals cannot be imprisoned simply for disagreeing with the state's policies. The court also noted that the mere engagement with people of dubious credentials is not enough to establish guilt.



The court found that there was no direct link between Disha's actions and the violence that occurred on January 26, 2021. It affirmed the right of individuals to seek a global audience without geographical barriers, as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Indian Constitution. This case highlighted the balance between freedom of expression and the state's duty to maintain public order.



  • Vinod Dua vs. Union of India & Ors (2021): In the case of Vinod Dua vs. Union of India & Ors (2021), Vinod Dua, a senior journalist, made various statements on his YouTube show "The Vinod Dua Show." He criticised the government's handling of COVID-19, including the lack of testing facilities and alleged shortages of PPE kits. He also questioned the timing of export restrictions on ventilators and sanitizers and made remarks regarding the Prime Minister's political tactics.



Allegations were made that Dua's statements aimed to incite panic, hatred, contempt, and disaffection towards the government, potentially leading to violence. However, the Supreme Court quashed the charge of sedition under Section 124A.


The court reasoned that Dua's statements, while critical of the government, were not intended to incite violence or public disorder. Instead, they were seen as expressions of disapproval aimed at addressing prevailing issues efficiently.


Despite potential inaccuracies in factual details, the overall context of Dua's show did not exceed the limits set by the Supreme Court's decision in Kedar Nath Singh. Therefore, Dua's statements fell within the permissible limits of freedom of expression and did not constitute sedition.



  • Arun Jaitley v. The State of U.P. (2015): In the case of Arun Jaitley v. The State of U.P. (2015), Arun Jaitley, a senior Supreme Court lawyer, wrote and posted a critical article titled ‘NJAC Judgement-An Alternative View’ on his Facebook page. The article discussed the Supreme Court judgment that set aside the act aimed at replacing the collegium system of judicial appointments with the National Judicial Appointments Commission (NJAC).


Subsequently, a judicial magistrate took suo-moto cognizance and charged Jaitley under Section 124A and Section 505 of the IPC for sedition. The central issue in the case was whether the content of the article amounted to sedition under Section 124A.


The Allahabad High Court quashed the magistrate’s order and remarked that strong criticism of government measures or public officials does not constitute sedition. The article, in this case, was deemed not seditious but rather an exercise of freedom of speech aimed at maintaining a balance between the two pillars of the country.


The court also emphasised that disrespecting the judiciary does not fall within the purview of sedition. This case underscored the importance of safeguarding freedom of speech and expression, even in instances of criticism directed towards government actions or judicial decisions.

 
 

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