New state circular on sedition shows why law must be repealed

By Amnesty International India
India: 10 September 2015 2:31 pm

A circular issued by the Maharashtra government on when the state police can invoke India’s sedition law is overly broad and demonstrates why the law must be urgently repealed.

Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code defines sedition as any act or attempt “to bring into hatred or contempt, or…excite disaffection towards the government.” The offence is punishable with life imprisonment.

The circular, written in Marathi, is based on English guidelines submitted to the Bombay High Court by the state government on how the law must be applied. It suggests that speech against a government representative would amount to sedition. It also dilutes a requirement in the guidelines that the speech in question constitute incitement to violence or a threat to public order.

“This circular makes an already bad law even more likely to be abused,” said Abhirr VP, Campaigner at Amnesty International India.

“It is vague and overly broad, and can be used by the Maharashtra police to arrest people for legitimate political criticism.”

The Maharashtra government had drafted the guidelines in a case arising out of the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi in 2011 for drawing cartoons that allegedly insulted national symbols. Speaking to Amnesty International India, Aseem Trivedi said, “This circular must be challenged in court immediately. Governments in India have always misinterpreted laws and guidelines to curb freedom of expression.”

“The sedition law in India is frequently used against activists and human rights defenders. It is a reminder of how colonial-era laws continue to threaten the right to freedom of expression, which is recognized by the Constitution of India and international law,” said Abhirr VP.

“There is no good way to apply the sedition law. The Narendra Modi government, which has promised to repeal obsolete laws, must add this law to the top of its list.”

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