- Supreme Court puts sedition law on hold till re-evaluation is completed.
- No new FIRs pertaining to charges framed around the same are permitted for the time being.
- The order is likely to impact ongoing cases like JNU sloganeering and Disha Ravi’s “toolkit” cases.
The Supreme Court of India, consisting of a bench headed by Chief Justice N V Ramana, ordered all the pending cases, appeals, and proceedings regarding sedition charges to be kept in abeyance. It said that the reliefs given to the accused courts would remain. It directed the Centre and State to refrain from registering any new FIRs invoking the same. The colonial-era penal law (S 124A) will be subject to a re-examination by the government post which any investigation or coercive measures relating to the same can be adopted. The ones booked under the section are at liberty to approach the concerned courts for bail.
The sedition law (Section 124A) of the Indian Penal Code states that anyone who attempts to incite hatred or contempt for the government through words, actions, or signs shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which a fine may be added. Freezing of the sedition law by the Supreme Court is likely to impact a few ongoing controversial cases which the Delhi Police are probing.
JNU sloganeering case of 2016 against Kanhaiya Kumar and Umar Khalid tops the list, followed by the “toolkit” case against climate activist Disha Ravi and the case against former JNU student Sharjeel Imam. Separate sedition FIRs were registered on Republic Day violence in Red Fort last year and the farmer’s rally protesting against the farm bill.
While the cases against Kanhaiya Kumar, Umar Khalid, and Sharjeel Imam are still under trial, Disha Ravi’s case is under probe. The issue of the Red Fort violence is also being investigated. The defendants are either out on bail or haven’t been apprehended in these cases. The hearing of pleas challenging the provision’s validity has been scheduled for the third week of July. Until then, the Centre would have the time to re-examine the provision.
The JNU sloganeering case of 2016 is associated with a “poetry session” to observe the third anniversary of the hanging of Afzal Guru, convicted of the 2001 Parliament attack. During the occasion, anti-India slogans were purportedly uttered. The Delhi Police booked JNU Students’ Union President Kanhaiya Kumar alongside other student leaders like Anirban Bhattacharya and Umar Khalid.
Sharjeel Imam was arrested on the grounds of alleged inflammatory speeches in the Jamia area in December 2019 and at Aligarh Muslim University in January 2020 during protests against the anti-Citizenship Act. Charges were framed against imam by a Delhi court in March 2022. During the occasion, anti-India slogans were purportedly uttered.
The “toolkit case” involves Bengaluru-based environment activist Ravi who was booked for allegedly creating and circulating a “toolkit” on the central government’s agricultural laws. Swedish environment activist, Great Thunberg tweeted the said toolkit igniting a massive Twitter storm on February 3rd, 2021.
The Delhi Police traced Ravi through the IP address, who was later released on bail on February 23rd, 2021 by a Delhi court. The court held that citizens in a democratic nation cannot be jailed based on their decision to disagree with the policies of the state.
The National Crime Records Bureau data shows that two cases of sedition were filed by the Delhi Police in 2016, and one each in 2018 and 2019. As many as 5 FIRs were registered in 2020 and 356 sedition cases were registered across India under section 124A between 2015 and 2020 and 548 people were arrested.
To continue with the filing of a charge sheet for sedition against any person implicated, the Delhi Police requires the approval of the Delhi government.