Sedition – An offence against the State

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Sedition – An offence against the State

According to the Google dictionary meaning, Sedition is the “conduct or speech inciting people to rebel against the authority of a state or monarch”. Therefore, Sedition involves two elements, namely an act or a conduct or speech and provocation of rebellious attitude or anti-national feelings against the state.


The Law of Sedition

Sedition is an offence against the State enshrined in Chapter VI of the Indian Penal Code. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code states that “Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.” According to the Indian Penal Code, the word “disaffection” in the definition of Sedition includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

The maximum punishment for the offence of sedition is life imprisonment. The offence is cognizable which means that police do not require a warrant for arrest and that it is non-bailable. It would be imperative to engage a lawyer to seek relief when a person is arrested under the case of sedition.

It is important to note that any comments expressing strong disapproval or discontentment of the administrative or other actions of the Government without provoking or attempting to motivate hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offense under this section.



What are the activities that are Seditious in nature?

As per the Indian Penal Code, for an act to be called “seditious”, it should have the following components:

  • Any words, which can be either written or spoken or signs which include placards/posters (visible representation) or any act
  • Which brings hatred/contempt/disaffection towards the Indian Government or the country or any authority
  • Done with an intention to excite or result in ‘imminent violence’ or public disorder.


Legal Procedures related to Sedition


Reporting at the Police Station

It is the right of a person to report and file a case against the person who is found committing an offence of Sedition. The police station must be the nearest police station to the place where such an incident occurred. An FIR i.e. the first information report must be filed by the person who has come to know about such offence and also can be filed by the police officer.


Police to take cognizance

When a person files a complaint and provides any credible information about the offence of sedition, it is the duty of the Police to take action against such a complaint. The Police are able to directly arrest the person without a warrant who has allegedly committed the crime of sedition in the following cases:

  1. When the seditious act is going on before the police inspector, District Magistrate or Executive Magistrate.
  2. If any information is received from another police officer for the arrest of the person who has committed a seditious offence
  3. F.I.R. when lodged against the person for a seditious offence.
  4. When a person who is being suspected of Sedition, then the police officer may arrest such person for the further investigation.


Investigation

The investigation is initiated by the Police when the First Information Report is filed. An investigation can also be ordered to the Police by the Magistrate for the offence of sedition.

A magistrate is empowered to take cognizance upon receiving any complaint or upon a police report or upon information received from any person other than a police officer who is having knowledge of such offence being committed.


Charge Sheet

After the completion of the investigation by the Police, a charge sheet is filed which includes the FIR copy, statement of the accused, statement of witnesses, statement of the person who complained etc.


Sedition and freedom of speech and expression

The fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression is one of the major pillars on which the concept of democracy stands – calling for the equal participation of all. Courts have been given the power to act as guarantors and protectors of the rights of citizens.

The Supreme Court in a landmark judgment in the Menaka Gandhi case had stated: “freedom of speech and expression is not confined to geographical limitations and it carries with it the right of a citizen to gather information and to exchange thoughts with others not only in India but abroad too.

On one hand where the constitution of India provides us the freedom to express, Article 19(2) enshrines reasonable restrictions to the use of the right in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the State, friendly relations with foreign States, public order, decency or morality or in relation to contempt of court, defamation or incitement to an offence. To simplify this means that if something is capable of causing unrest in the nation, it can’t be defended by using Article 19(1)(a). Such an act which incites others to destroy the unity and integrity of the nation will be termed as sedition and not free speech.

The Supreme Court has made it very clear that it will only protect free speech from any oppressive law but the speech cannot become a license for criticising or abusing the government which ultimately results in violence or disrupts the public order. However, mere criticism of the government or its institutions will not be treated as sedition, no matter how harsh it is. Sedition will be punishable only if the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the country are challenged by any person.  For example, raising slogans against breaking up or dividing the country, using a terrorist’s picture on a banner to indicate the separation of Kashmir, spreading Naxalism, seeking freedom from India, or asking of the dismemberment of India, etc. will definitely be considered as seditious acts.

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