Explained: What Supreme Court’s historic order on sedition law means for those on trial

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Explained: what supreme court’s historic order on sedition law means for those trial

The Supreme Court order to temporarily suspend the sedition law has been hailed as historic. Image used for representational purpose/AFP

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In a historic order, the Supreme Court on Wednesday stayed the country’s colonial-era sedition law and allowed the Centre to re-examine and reconsider provisions of Section 124 of the Indian Penal Code (IPC).

The top court said that until the exercise of re-examination is complete, no case will be registered under 1PC Section 124, which deals with punishment for sedition offences.

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The order comes after the Centre, which was defending the sedition law and asking the top court to dismiss pleas challenging it, changed its stance on Monday, saying it had decided to review the legislation.

“It is clear that Centre agrees that rigours of Section 124a are not in tune with the current situation and it was intended for the time when the country was under colonial law. Thus Centre may reconsider it… The court is to balance civil liberty and sovereignty of the state. This is a difficult exercise,” the Chief Justice of India NV Ramanna said on Wednesday.

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“The Union of India is at liberty to pass directives to states to prevent misuse of the law,” the CJI said. “It will be appropriate not to use this provision of law till further reexamination is over. We hope and expect that Centre and state will desist from registering any FIR under 124a or initiate a proceeding under the same till reexamination is over,” he added.

What happens to those on trial?

The Supreme Court said in its ruling that those already charged under the sedition law can approach courts for bail.

If any fresh case is registered under Section 124A, affected parties are at liberty to approach concerned courts for relief. “The courts are requested to examine the reliefs taking into account the present order as well as the clear stand taken by Union of India,” a three-judge bench presided by CJI Ramana ruled.

The reliefs granted by courts to the accused under the provisions of the law will continue, according to the order.

In a reply to the apex court, the Centre proposed that future first information reports (FIRs) under Section 124A of the IPC be registered only after scrutiny by a superintendent of police-level official or above. On pending cases, courts can be directed to expeditiously consider bail, it said.

How many sedition cases are registered in India?

According to Congress leader and senior advocate Kapil Sibal, who is appearing on behalf of petitioners in the top court, there are over 800 sedition cases filed across India. “13,000 people are in jail,” he said.

Sibal argued that the sedition law should be scrapped.

According to data by the news and research website Article 14, six sedition cases were filed during the farm protests and 25 during the anti-CAA protests.

According to the home ministry data, a total of 326 cases were registered under the sedition law between 2014 and 2019, with the highest 54 cases in Assam. Charge sheets were filed in 141 cases while six people were convicted for the offence over six years.

Who is likely to benefit from the order?

Former Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU) student Sharjeel Imam, who is facing sedition charges, in the northeast Delhi riots case will approach Delhi High Court on Thursday, with a fresh application seeking bail following the top court order.

Explained: what supreme court’s historic order on sedition law means for those trial

JNU student activist Sharjeel Imam is likely to approach the Delhi High Court with a fresh bail application, according to media reports.

Imam has been in custody since January 2020. The Allahabad High Court had granted bail to him in the Aligarh speech FIR while opining that there was no call for violence.

As per the prosecution, Imam allegedly made speeches at Jamia Millia Islamia on 13 December 2019, and at Aligarh Muslim University on 16 December 2019, where he threatened to cut off Assam and the rest of the Northeast from India.

Student activist Umar Khalid, who has been in jail since September 2020, in relation to the northeast Delhi violence has been called the “veteran of sedition” by the prosecution, according to an NDTV report. His bail was denied on 22 March by Delhi’s Karkardooma Court.

Khalid faces charges under the anti-terror law Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act for being one of the “masterminds” of the February 2020 riots, which had left 53 people dead and over 700 injured.

Recently, Independent MP Navneet Rana and her MLA husband Ravi Rana were charged with sedition. They had threatened to chant the Hanuman Chalisa in front of Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s house. They were arrested by the police in Mumbai’s suburban Khar and were booked under Section 124 A. The couple has been granted bail.

The next hearing in the sedition law case is scheduled for Thursday.

With inputs from agencies

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