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Substance of offence of sedition snuck into UAPA with more draconian consequences, say former bureaucrats – Mrit News

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The Constitutional Conduct Group, a group of former bureaucrats, suggested that the Supreme Court should examine all existing laws and provisions that curbs “freedom of speech and expression”

The Constitutional Conduct Group, a group of former bureaucrats, suggested that the Supreme Court should examine all existing laws and provisions that curbs “freedom of speech and expression”

A month after the sedition law was suspended, a group of over 100 former bureaucrats on June 12 said deleting IPC section 124A while retaining criminalisation of “unlawful activities” under the UAPA will give a “substantial political advantage” to the Union government and the party in power at the national level.

The group, which claimed to have no political affiliation, suggested the Supreme Court should examine Article 19 under the “basic structure of the Constitution” principle with reference to all existing laws and provisions that put curbs on “freedom of speech and expression”.

The Supreme Court on May 11 put on hold the colonial-era penal law on sedition till an “appropriate” government forum re-examines it, and directed the Centre and the 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 had ruled.

The statement said that over the years, “slowly and surreptitiously”, the substance of the offence of sedition has been “snuck” into the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, defined more elaborately, and with more draconian consequences, than in section 124A.

“Significantly, no political party is blameless in this regard and governments of all political complexions have been trampling upon human rights and the freedom of expression,” the Constitutional Conduct Group (CCG) said in an open statement signed by 108 former civil servants of the all-India and central services who have worked with the central and state governments.

The signatories include former RAW chief A. S. Dulat, former cabinet secretary K. M. Chandrasekhar, former CIC Wajahat Habibullah, former home secretary G. K. Pillai, former Sikkim DGP Avinash Mohananey and former additional secretary Rana Banerjee among others.

The statement said the disaffection and contempt for the government of the day are feelings through which democratic republics are born. “Such feelings are considered criminal only in autocracies.

“Where the government of the day can be, and is, changed through the electoral process, it can surely not be a criminal offence for any citizen to merely harbour and express feelings of disaffection, etc. towards the government,” it said.

The statement said the low rate of conviction in cases pertaining to section 124A casts serious doubt about the genuineness of the claims made during investigation and prosecution, and “shows that the real purpose of such laws is to provide autocratic rulers a powerful weapon to suppress their rivals and control public opinion”.

It said whether or not section 124A is finally deleted or altered, it will make little difference to the common citizen. “This is because, apart from section 124A of the IPC, there are several other provisions in the IPC and other Acts which shackle this fundamental right of citizens and leave them open to arbitrary arrest and prosecution by the government.

“The only way that the citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression can be protected is if the Supreme Court examines Article 19 under the ‘basic structure of the Constitution’ principle with reference to all existing laws and provisions that put curbs on this freedom,” the statement read.

The armoury of arbitrary weapons used to suppress dissent and opposition and control the free formation of public opinion has expanded over the years to include a number of offences similar to those under section 124A, it added.

Prominent among these offences are IPC sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on ground of religion, race, place of birth, etc.), 153B (imputations, assertions prejudicial to national integration), 505 (statements conducive to public mischief) and 505(2) (statements creating or promoting enmity, hatred or ill-will between classes), the statement said.

“These provisions are today widely and routinely misused by the police and their political masters with the same objective as in the case of section 124A,” it added.

“If section 124A of the IPC is held by the court to be unconstitutional, because speech and expression that merely create disaffection are protected (and not prohibited), the UAPA will also need to be amended to delete elements imported from section 124A,” the group said.

It said the UAPA vests no powers with the state governments. “It provides that no court shall take cognizance of any offence of unlawful activity without the previous sanction of the central government.” “Deleting section 124A of the IPC will mean that the power to prosecute those who promote unfavourable opinions against the government will rest solely with the Union government.

“This provides a major incentive for the Union government to delete section 124A under the pretext of protecting human rights while in reality strengthening its ability to suppress liberty in an even more draconian manner,” the statement said.

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