“Most of them charged for their statements on Naxal issue or Kashmir conflict”
As doctor and human rights activist Binayak Sen spends New Year’s Day in prison as the only person to be convicted on sedition charges in 2010, it is worth noting that at least five others have also faced the charge over the course of the year. Most of these have been charged for their statements with regard to either the Naxal issue or the Kashmir conflict, according to media watchdog site TheHoot.org.
Sedition is a crime dealt with in Section 124 A of the Indian Penal Code, which says that “whoever by written or spoken words, or by signs or visible representations attempts or brings into hatred or contempt or attempts or excites disaffection towards the government established by law shall be punishable with life imprisonment.” This was one of the charges that Dr. Sen was found guilty of last week.
Perhaps the best known sedition cases of 2010 are those of activist and writer Arundhati Roy and Hurriyat leader S.A.P. Geelani, both of whom were charged for speeches they made at an October seminar on Kashmir titled “Azaadi — the only way.” While the government initially decided not to initiate any criminal proceedings against the speeches, a Delhi city court directed the police to respond to the demand for a criminal case made by a group of Kashmiri Pandits, while the Delhi High Court issued a similar notice in response to a PIL. Despite the police reporting that the accused had made no inflammatory speeches, the Metropolitan Magistrate directed the police to file an FIR and submit a report to the Court by January 6, 2011.
The most bizarre case may have been that of E. Rati Rao, vice-president of the Karnataka chapter of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties, who was issued a sedition notice by the Vijayanagara police for bringing out an in-house bulletin in Kannada called “PUCL Karnataka Varthapatra.” Not only was the bulletin meant for private circulation, its publication had actually been discontinued in September 2007, three years before the sedition notice was issued.
“Is the law on sedition being invoked a little too often for a democracy that values free speech?” asks TheHoot.org’s Free Speech Hub which tracked these sedition cases.
In other cases, an environmental activist was charged with sedition for disrupting a government Republic Day function in Salem, Tamil Nadu, by distributing Tamil pamphlets questioning the displacement of lakhs of tribals due to Operation Green Hunt and the non-implementation of a Supreme Court order for the rehabilitation of Chhattisgarh villagers.
In Srinagar, a lecturer of a government college was arrested for allegedly setting an examination paper filled with questions related to the recent unrest in the Kashmir Valley. The police termed the question paper anti-Indian and seditious.