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SC Must Repeal Sedition Law, UAPA So Citizens Can 'Breathe More Freely': Justice Nariman

"If you are booking persons, including journalists, under these laws which come with large sentences and no anticipatory bail, people would not speak their mind."
Illustration: The Wire

New Delhi: Retired Supreme Court judge Justice Rohintan Nariman on Sunday (October 10) asked the Supreme Court to repeal laws of sedition and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), saying that will allow citizens to “breathe more freely”.

“I exhort the Supreme Court to not keep sending the case back to the government. Governments will come and go, and it is not the government’s business to start amending or repealing laws. There is a live case before the Supreme Court and it is important that the court use its power to strike down section 124A and the offending provisions of the UAPA to ensure that the citizens can breathe more freely. Maybe then India will move from 142 out of 180 to much higher (in the RSF’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index),” Justice Nariman said, according to LiveLaw.

The sedition law, the retired judge said, was put in place by the colonial government wanting to repress Indian people, particularly freedom fighters, and “continues to be misused” today.

Justice Nariman was speaking at an event to commemorate the 109th birth anniversary of Late Viswanath Pasayat.

He also brought up the Nobel peace prize awarded on Friday to two journalists furthering press freedom in the Philippines (Maria Ressa) and Russia (Dmitry Muratov). India’s low ranking on the World Press Freedom Index, despite being the world’s largest democracy, Justice Nariman commented, could be because of these “outdated” and “repressive” laws.

Also read: Justice Akil Kureshi: Law Itself Is Not Enough, It Must Have the Moral Authority to Rule

The sedition provision, the retired judge pointed out, was not in the original IPC, though it had been in the draft. “Sedition provision was there in draft but not in final book. But it was later discovered and re-drafted. It was said that this section was left out by oversight. The wordings were also vague. Sentence under 124A was enormous as it was transportation for life and imprisonment for three years,” Justice Nariman said, according to Bar and Bench.

The history of the UAPA, he said, can be traced back to India’s wars with China and Pakistan. “We had China and Pakistan wars. Thereafter, we introduced the draconian legislation, Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act. UAPA is a draconian Act as it has no anticipatory bail and has minimum 5 years imprisonment. This Act is not under scanner yet. This too has to be looked into along with the sedition law,” he said.

“There is a chilling effect on free speech. If you are booking persons, including journalists, under these laws which come with large sentences and no anticipatory bail, people would not speak their mind,” Justice Nariman added.

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