Partial Relief from Sedition Law: Legal Experts on SC Move

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Supreme Court of India. — Getty Images

The common refrain of lawyers is that since a majority of the accused has been booked under other sections along with the sedition law, the proceedings against them is bound to continue.

Waquar Hasan | Clarion India

NEW DELHI – Even as the Supreme Court ordered stay on the operation of the sedition law in the country legal experts see no end to the woes of the people facing charges under the draconian Act. According to them, the apex court’s ruling can only offer partial relief to those who were booked under Indian Penal Code’s section 124A.

On Wednesday, the Supreme Court asked the state governments to refrain from registering FIR under the sedition law till it is re-examined by the Centre.

Speaking to Clarion India about the implications of the judgment, seasoned Supreme Court lawyer Sanjay Hegde said that the court can only be requested to keep the trial and investigation under the section 124A in abeyance. If an accused has been booked under other sections along with the sedition law, the proceedings against him will continue. The accused can apply for bail if he is booked under only sedition law.

“The problem is that there are very few cases where the accused has been booked under only sedition. In a majority of the cases, other sections have been invoked along with the sedition law,” he pointed out.

He, however, noted that the judgment has sent a strong signal that the law could itself be unconstitutional.

Another Supreme Court lawyer, MR Shamsad, is of the opinion that this is a half-baked relief to those booked under the said law. He said, “In the present situation, the accused may get little relief. They may get bail. But proceedings will not be ended. The police will stop filing cases under this law. Or the police may file a case after taking permission from the higher authority. It has gone in a slow situation.”

Many cases filed under the sedition law have drawn a lot of attention. The 2016 alleged anti-national sloganeering case of Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) in which activist Umar Khalid and Congress leader Kanahiya Kumar were named is a case in point. Another JNU student, Sharjeel Imam, was too booked for his speeches. The toolkit case in which climate activist Disha Ravi was named an accused. The case against Umar, Kanahiya and Imam is at a trial stage while the probe is underway in the case of Disha Ravi under the same sedition law.

Shamsad said the proceeding will go at slow pace. But it is not clear whether the hearing could be put on hold or not.

“It will depend on the court. The top court did not say that the hearing will be stayed. Some courts may say that it is suspending the hearing for some months,” he said.

Meanwhile, Imam will approach the Delhi High with a fresh plea for bail after Supreme Court order. His lawyer is confident that the SC order may help his client in getting bail.

Journalist Siddique Kappan, who has also been booked under the sedition law, was arrested by UP Police when he was on his way to cover gang-rape of Dalit girl in Hathras in October 2020. He has not been granted bail since then. His wife has hailed the Supreme Court’s order on the sedition law.

Shamsad also welcomed the Supreme Court judgment calling it a “good step”.

“The court should have intervened long before as this law has been abused under every political regime. It took the Supreme Court 70 years to recognise the misuse of this law. Better late than never… However, what’s intriguing is that after the long wait the draconian legislation has only been put on hold, not abrogated altogether,” he said.

Another Supreme Court advocate, Ehtesham Hashmi, also lauded the Supreme Court for putting the law on hold. He said, “This is an extremely positive judgment by the Supreme court. The sedition law was enacted by the British. There is no need for such a law in a democratic India. The government should have abrogated it long ago. Nonetheless, better late than never…”

He is of the opinion that the proceedings going on under this law will be held after this judgment. “The proceedings in all the cases registered under this law will be held. The accused can apply for bail which will be considered the same day,” he said.

Apart from legal experts, political leaders from Opposition parties also hailed the judgment.

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