India’s top court suspends enforcement of controversial sedition law

The colonial-era law will be put on hold until the government completes its review, the Supreme Court has said. No further cases should be registered under the law until the review is completed, he added, in an apparent rebuke to the government.

Those currently arrested under the law can apply for bail if they are in jail solely for sedition, Rashmi Singh, an attorney representing the petitioners, told CNN.

This week, India’s federal government told the Supreme Court it was willing to review the law after a series of petitions were filed in the Supreme Court challenging it and accusing the government of misusing it. .

“It’s a good thing and hopefully when the review comes around they’ll say it’s colonial-era law,” she said. “This is certainly a positive step in the direction of overturning the Sedition Act.”

The law, which was introduced by the British colonial government in 1860, prohibits “words either spoken or written, or by signs or visible representation” which attempt to provoke “hate or contempt, or to excite or attempt to stir up disaffection” towards the government. . A person found guilty of sedition can be imprisoned for more than three years.

Experts have accused India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of using the law to silence activists, journalists and other critics. India has seen a slight increase in its implementation since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his BJP came to power in 2014.

In 2015, 30 people were charged with sedition, according to the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB). By 2020, the most recent year for which data is available, that number had risen to 73.

In January, Rohinton Nariman, a former Supreme Court Justice of India, denounced the way sedition laws are being used.

He said young people, students and comedians were reserved for criticizing the government, while others got away with calling for genocide against Muslims, referring to comments made at a three-day event. days in the city of Haridwar in December as right wing Hindus called on their followers to kill Muslims.