CHENNAI: The section 124 (A), also known as the sedition charge, of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) contradicts the constitutional provision of freedom of speech, and thus should be repealed, asserted two legal experts who spoke at a panel discussion here on Thursday.
Addressing the discussion on ‘Free Speech and Sedition in a Democracy’, organised by The Hindu Centre for Politics and Public Policy on Thursday, the former Madras High Court Justice K Chandru and senior advocate of the court, Sriram Panchu, opined that the colonial law must go as there was a long history of the legal provision being misused on the pretext of protecting the country’s integrity.
Claiming that many opportunities to repeal the law so far in independent India were lost, Sriram Panchu said, “Countries like the US and the UK (which ironically introduced the law in India) have repealed the law. It is only counties like Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and Sudan that still hold on to sedition. Which of these two category of countries do we want to follow?” Panchu asked.
Also airing his opposition to the sedition charge very clear, Chandru invoked the example of the recent incidents at JNU. “In every institution, problems are being caused intentionally. It is being made to appear as though there are two categories: terrorists or supporters of terrorism and peace loving people,” he said.
Describing the controversial section as a political offence, the retired judge said, “That section of the law is an attack on liberal polity. The Supreme Court has said mere speech will not qualify as sedition.”
On the other side, the former Director-General of Police AX Alexander advocated the continuation of section 124 (A), albeit with amendments. Commenting that freedom of expression couldn’t be free, the former top cop asserted that the geographical integrity of the nation was at risk now.
Conceding that law should have no ambiguity in its terms and usage, Alexander said police do not understand the nuances of words like disaffection and disloyalty. “They only file FIRs and leave the function of charging the accused to the court. Before that they have to get the opinion of lawyers as well as the sanction of the State. Thus, there is no easy prosecution of anyone booked under it,” he said.