From CAA critics to journos covering Hathras rape, UP govt uses sedition law 'recklessly': Experts

Uttar Pradesh witnessed a surge in sedition cases after the CAA protests and then the rape of a Dalit teen at Hathras in 2020.
Representational Image: Anti-CAA protests in Lucknow on December 2019. (File Photo | PTI)
Representational Image: Anti-CAA protests in Lucknow on December 2019. (File Photo | PTI)

LUCKNOW: Uttar Pradesh became familiar with the sedition law when protests began over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) in 2019.

The sedition law -- Section 124A -- deals with words, signs, or visual representation that brings or attempts to bring "into hatred or contempt or excites disaffection against the Government" and can be punished by imprisonment for life with a fine or imprisonment that may extend to three years with a fine.

Uttar Pradesh witnessed a surge in sedition cases after the CAA protests and then the rape of a Dalit teen at Hathras in 2020.

When protests broke out after the death of the 19-year-old Dalit victim of a brutal gang rape in Hathras district in September 2020, the UP government filed 22 cases of sedition against at least 18 unidentified individuals and five known persons, including a journalist and a politician.

Protests had broken out against the UP government's handling of the incident, including its decision to forcibly cremate the victim against her family members' wishes and in their absence.

A retired IPS officer who faced sedition charges when he joined the anti-CAA campaign, said, "Suddenly it has become a fashion to slap sedition charges against individuals and organizations without even understanding the legal ramifications of the same. It is almost as if officials feel that this is the ultimate punishment they can give to a person to please their political bosses. The charges are slapped on trivial issues and do not stand in court."

In UP, 77 per cent of 115 sedition cases since 2010 were registered over the last three years. Of these, more than half were filed on issues of "nationalism" -- accusing people of making "anti-India" remarks or writing and chanting "Pro-Pakistan" slogans.

Nearly 149 persons were accused of making "critical" or "derogatory" remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi and 144 against Uttar Pradesh chief minister Yogi Adityanath.

The data shows a 28 per cent rise in sedition cases filed each year between 2014 and 2020, compared to the yearly average of the second tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) administration during 2010-14.

The Supreme Court has ruled that no crime of sedition is established under Section 124-A unless the remarks, said or written, have the potential to cause disruption or disturbance of public order through the use of violence, thereby overruling the decision of the Allahabad High Court.

There is no offence unless the statements are likely to cause violence.

The UP government has used sedition laws to punish its critics by filing 28 cases against protesters and people critical of the amended citizenship laws and its handling of the gang rape in Hathras.

It was particularly harsh on those criticising the government and party leaders, including Yogi and Modi.

At least 18 sedition cases were filed against 149 such critics.

The list of those accused in UP of sedition include the former head of the Congress' digital team Divya Spandana and Aam Aadmi Party Member of Parliament Sanjay Singh.

Spandana tweeted a digitally altered photo showing Modi painting the word chor (thief) on the forehead of his own wax statue.

Sanjay Singh conducted a survey which, he alleged, revealed that the Yogi government was working for a "particular caste".

The situation has come to such a pass that even memes, tweets, cartoons and photographs are attracting sedition laws.

Journalists and social influencers are bearing the brunt and are being accused of anti-national activities.

A senior high court lawyer, who did not wish to be named, said, "Section 124 A is being used very frivolously and recklessly in UP and the purpose is to intimidate and threaten the target. I have had cases where the Act was invoked in a simple case of defamation. The problem is that majority of these cases do not reach the trial stage and are kept hanging so that the alleged accused goes down on his knees."

A senior superintendent of police, presently posted in an important eastern UP district, admitted that there has been an 'overuse' of sedition laws in the past few years.

"There is not much we can do because we are firmly 'ordered' to slap Section 124 A on the person. However, we know that the case will crash in court so that gives us some relief," he said.

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The New Indian Express