Striking off sedition will have little impact if UAPA remains untouched

News: Recently, the Union Government has shown its willingness to reconsider the colonial law in the spirit of Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav and the Supreme Court order has ordered to keep the 152-year-old sedition law, i.e., Section124 A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) in abeyance.

What are the issues?

According to the NCRB and Article 14 database, more than 13,000 Indians have been trapped in Sedition law cases since 2010.

An accused is most likely to spend up to 50 days in prison until a trial court grants bail and up to 200 days until a high court does so.

Argument against the law

The sedition law has been used to criminalise dissent. For example, various citizens have been charged with sedition during the anti-CAA protests, farmers protests of 2021; etc.

What are the challenges in striking off of the sedition law?

The discussion and deliberations on removal of the sedition law has always been political in nature in India. There has been election promises for the removal of the dark laws like the AFSPA and sedition, but nothing has happened on the ground.

Is Sedition law removal enough?

The retired Justice Manmohan Singh has said that the removal of the sedition law makes a dent, but it will be small and ineffective measures if the UAPA remains untouched. The UAPA contains many aspects of the sedition law with a number of far-reaching consequences.

First, the sedition law involves a number of safeguards and constitutional remedies. For example, anticipatory bail, compulsion of filing a charge sheet within 90 days, failing which the accused arrested is entitled to bail, and so on. However, the UAPA is an anti-terror law having stringent provisions and far fewer safeguards. For example, detention is allowed without a charge sheet for up to 180 days, a presumption of guilt, burden of proof on the accused and creates a strong presumption against bail.

For example, the three Kashmiri students who were charged with sedition for shouting pro-Pakistan slogans in a T-20 cricket match were easily granted bail. In contrast, especially after the SC’s Watali judgment (2019), bail has become a virtual impossibility for the UAPA accused.

Second, in the sedition cases, the charge sheet is filed in fewer cases and the conviction rate is as low as 2.25%. Thus, the sedition law is not a very effective tool for incarceration. However, as per the NCRB data between 2014-2020, 27.5 per cent of the UAPA cases saw convictions. In addition, such cases have taken a long time for trial to reach the stage of completion.

Way Forward

Those imprisoned under the sedition law should get immediate bail as the SC has issued interim order.

Source: The post is based on an article “Striking off sedition will have little impact if UAPA remains untouched” published in the Indian Express on 23rd May 2022.

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