Towards freedom of expression

Source: Business standard

Relevance – Laws linked to national security need reconsideration due to their coercive nature.

Synopsis:

Reviewing the validity of Sedition law should be seen as a starting point for reviewing inhumane provisions of other laws like UAPA and NSA. This would uphold freedom of expression and strengthen constitutional spirit in governance.  

Background:
  • The Supreme Court agreed to hear a plea challenging the constitutional validity of the sedition law under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.
  • A review was long overdue, given the conspicuous misuse of the sedition law by the Central and state governments. 
  • It could mark the start of a belated process to strengthen Indian citizens’ right to freedom of expression that is stifled by many Draconian laws.
Other laws that demand review:
  • Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act: The UAPA, the country’s anti-terror law, is particularly egregious as it requires the accused to prove themselves innocent. 
    • A situation that makes bail a near impossibility, as the appalling treatment of the late Stan Swamy highlighted. Further, it also extends pre-chargesheet custody for 180 days.
    • Many have courageously pointed to the basic flaw in the application of the UAPA in conflating protest with terrorism.
  • National Security Act: It is also a variation of colonial-era laws (including the infamous Rowlatt Act). It allows governments to detain a citizen deemed a threat to national security for up to 12 months or longer if the government finds evidence.
    • This law strips a person of basic rights: To consult a lawyer and to be informed of the reason for her arrest within five days. It gives the government the power to withhold information in the name of national security. 
    • This law has been used to detain people associated with an alleged cow-slaughter case, and a Manipuri journalist for a controversial Facebook post. 
Conclusion:

India would benefit if these laws, too, were read down from the statute books. Doing so would help India, which signed a joint statement supporting freedom of expression at the G7 meeting as recently as June 2021, regain something of its tarnished global reputation.

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