Justice (Retd) Madan B Lokur recently expressed his worries regarding the present use of our sedition laws in an unreasonable manner. He has voiced his concerns over the widespread use of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act and the preventive detention against people for disagreeing with the policies. The judge said, “State is using an iron hand to curb free speech.”
Lately, the Judge was addressing a virtual discussion on “Freedom of speech and Judiciary” conducted by Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) and Swaraj Abhiyan in reference to the ongoing case of Prashant Bhushan depositing fine of Re 1 for the contempt case. He further stated that “Suddenly you have a lot of cases charging people with sedition. Common citizens utter something and are charged with sedition.” The session involved many renowned journalists and activists such as N Ram, senior journalist, and former editor of ‘The Hindu’ and social activist Aruna Roy who gave their insights too. The session was moderated by RTI activist Anjali Bharadwaj.
He further mentioned that this year itself has witnessed around 70 cases of sedition and last year there were about 90 of them. He opined that “State is using sedition as an iron hand to curb free speech, which I think is an overreaction to people’s expression of view.” Justice Lokur said that apart from the sedition tool, the other method opted by the State to curb the free speech is to snap down on critical opinions by charging them as spreading fake news. He also cited some of the examples of journalists who were reporting the COVID cases, lack of ventilators, and other issues that were charged for advancing fake news. Apart from that, another way adopted is the misinterpretation of statements to feature motives of people which is exactly what has happened in the case of Prashant Bhushan, he stated. Justice Lokur favored Prashant Bhushan and said, “I believe he had no intention to break the judiciary. But his statements were misread as he was only giving his opinion about the Judiciary.” He further added that people are being detained in the name of preventive detention by misreading their speeches and ascribing their motives to them. He gave an example of Dr. Kafeel Khan (without naming him) that he was imprisoned under the National Security Act on the grounds that he made a speech against the Citizenship Amendment Act 2019. Later on, when the case was heard by the Allahabad High Court, his detention was quashed as they noted that the speech was actually proposed national integrity and unity. But the man had to be in detention for a period of 6 months as his speech was highly misunderstood by the District Magistrate. All those students, activists, and others are being put in jails by misreading their nonconforming opinions and invoking UAPA against them. He further noted that on the other hand there are people who are explicitly talking about violence and breaking up things but yet nothing happens to them. Lastly, he referred to a large number of pending cases (around 3.4 crores) and urged the Judiciary to “prioritize its concerns” and said there was a need to increase transparency in the Judiciary for its better and unbiased functioning. Hence, the government should work on their understandings of the ‘sedition’ rather than blankly invoking it on ordinary citizens and also learn the difference between a seditious act and the act of questioning the government for implementing policies on the whole nation overnight.