Sedition Laws are being abused and no one is so aware about it. Former Supreme Court judge Madan B Lokur is being critical of “weaponising” of the “sedition laws”, and on the “abuse” of prohibitory orders and blanket shutdown of the Internet. He mentioned out that law is being misused to curb free press and speech. And, “a lethal cocktail of use and misuse of law” is being used to impact adversely the liberty of all those who dare to speak up.
He was delivering the 2020 B G Verghese Memorial Lecture on “Preserving and Protecting our Fundamental Rights-Freedom of Speech, Expression, and the Right to Protest.” It was organised by the Media Foundation. Plus, the foundation also presented the 2019 Chameli Devi Jain Award to women for outstanding journalism.
This year the award was shared by Arfa Khanum Sherwani of “The Wire” and Rohini Mohan, a Bengaluru-based independent journalist. The honourable mention was received by Rukmini S, an independent data-journalist from Chennai.
“One of the worst forms of curtailment of the freedom of speech is charging a person; with sedition,” Justice Lokur said in his lecture. He pointed out that the Supreme Court had laid down the sedition laws clearly and cogently in 1962, yet authorities have found various ways of “weaponising” the sedition laws.
Justice Lokur was among the four senior top court judges; who held the controversial January 12, 2018 press conference; against the then Chief Justice of India Dipak Misra.
While talking about the new methods of “silencing speech”; he said these included attributing to a speaker something he or she never said then instituting punitive proceedings against that person. Plus, he also referred to several cases including that of the preventive detention of doctor Kafeel Khan; and said “almost every procedure to the law was violated” by the detaining authorities.
In January, Kafeel Khan was arrested on the charge of delivering a provocative speech at the Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) during the anti-protests. His release was ordered on 1st September by the Allahabad High Court.
He also talked about the arrest of Pinjra Tod member Devangana Kalita in a Delhi riots case; and said that any citizen “can be arrested on the basis of a fairy tale; and will have to go through a long-drawn process for being set free.” He said that the law is always to be interpreted objectively, but of late; subjective satisfaction has taken over and the consequences are unpalatable.
The former top court judge, who retired in December 2018, alleged that the use of Section 144 of CrPC to “keep media out of the Hathras gangrape area; is nothing but an egregious violation of the freedom of the press; through a bizarre abuse of law.”