of India Supreme Court Wednesday suspended a colonial-era sedition law that activists say is often used by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government to target free speech and dissent.
Modi’s critics say the law, which was once used by Britain to target independence hero Mahatma Gandhi, has been abused by his government against many journalists, activists and students.
Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code gives police wide-ranging powers to arrest people, who may even face life imprisonment, for an act or speech that “carries or attempts to bring hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to arouse disaffection.” towards the government “.
“The rigors of Section 124A (are not) in tune with the current social environment, and it was intended for a time when this country was under colonial rule,” Indian justice chief NV Ramana, part of a three-man tribunal judges who heard a petition against the law, he said.
Ramana asked the government not to present new cases of sedition and to suspend the investigation into the ongoing sedition.
“All pending trials, appeals and proceedings” under sedition, the court said, “will be held on hold” until the “review of the order is completed.”
The government said on Monday it had decided to “review and reconsider” the law, but it remained in effect.
The supreme court also urged people incarcerated for sedition to go to local courts for bail.
Official Indian crime data says 236 people were charged with sedition between 2018 and 2020.
The law has long been misused by all ruling Indian political parties, but critics say Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has broadened its scope, including to target minorities and ideological dissidents. .
The government of India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, led by BJP’s firebrand monk Yogi Adityanath, has been a particularly enthusiastic user of the law.
Police last year jailed three Indian-administered Kashmiri students for sedition after celebrating India’s defeat to arch-rival Pakistan in a cricket match.
India sparked global outrage last year after 22-year-old climate change activist Disha Ravi was arrested for sedition on charges of creating a “toolkit” to aid anti-government farmers’ protests. .