The court also asked states to not file FIRs under the law till it is relooked at.
Many legal and constitutional experts felt that a law barring expression against governments, especially when they are capable of taking steps that may not be popular with the masses, was not in consonance with libertarian values and freedom of expression.
They also point out that such laws have been scrapped by many leading democracies.
“It is a very welcome step taken by the Supreme Court because in my view this law should be scrapped. It should not be there in the Indian Penal Code at all. That is my view,” said eminent constitutional expert P D T Achary.
Elaborating his view, Achary said that law held that if you criticise the government through an article or speech which has the tendency to cause disaffection against the government, you could be punished.
“The point to be remembered is that we live in a democratic country, a free country. Here the government can be changed by the people. It is voted to power by the people. People have the power or the right to criticise the government. Look at the Rajapakse government in Sri Lanka. Can you expect people to have any affection for that government? If the government is anti-people and indulges in misgovernance, people have a right to vote out a government. Naturally, people throw out a government not out of love for that government but because of disaffection for that government,” the eminent constitutional expert said.
“These are normal feelings that people have towards a bad government. And if people are going to be punished for that, then what kind of a law it is? So, it offends article 19(1) A. This law should not have been in the statute book. Supreme Court has done the right thing by freezing it,” he added.
Distinction between country and government
It is not against the state, country or the nation as many people believe. It is against the government. We have to make a distinction between the state and the government, Achary said.
Liberty and Expression
Prominent lawyer Rushab Aggarwal also said that the Supreme Court bench had exhibited ultimate committment to liberty and expression by keeping in abeyance all prosecutions, old and new, under a 160 year old archaic law that was begging a relook.
“Freedom of speech has to be afforded the ultimate protection under our constitutional scheme. Even under the American Law, the first amendment has been given absolute primacy, and the US Supreme Court, in the landmark Brandenburg verdict held that seditious speech—including speech that constitutes an incitement to violence—is protected by the First Amendment as long as it does not indicate an imminent threat,” Aggarwal said.
Several democratic countries including United Kingdom, Ireland, Australia, Canada have junked the sedition law, he added.
On the internet several leading legal eagles also celebrated the Supreme Court action.
We’ve made our positions very clear & also informed the court about intention of our PM. We respect the court & its… https://t.co/r33qQXzC8T
— ANI (@ANI) 1652255365000
Senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan said that the step was welcome as the law was prone to being misused.
Salute to the SC for this fine interim order preventing the rampant misuse of the sedition law 👏 https://t.co/RBoiIgpTyc
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) 1652250809000
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor also welcomed the Supreme Court decision. The parliamentarian said he had brought a private member’s bill on the subject but had not been able to gain much traction.
Proud of the SupremeCourt & of my friend @KapilSibal for putting the sedition law on ice! I had introduced a Privat… https://t.co/ptO2SzQmp9
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) 1652255752000
The union government on its part said that it had made its view known to the court and respected its decisions.
Path breaking order
In a path-breaking order, the Supreme Court on Wednesday put on hold the colonial-era penal law on sedition till an “appropriate” government forum re-examines it and directed the Centre and states to not register any fresh FIR invoking the offence.
Besides the lodging of FIRs, ongoing probes, pending trials and all proceedings under the sedition law across the country will also be held in abeyance, a Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana ruled.