The Indian government must repeal the country’s sedition law and reject recommendations from the Law Commission to retain and expand the legislation, as it would impinge on press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Thursday.
On May 24, the commission, which advises the Indian government on legal reforms, recommended retaining the country’s sedition law, expanding the definition of sedition, and increasing the punishment for violating the law, citing the need for national security.
India’s Supreme Court suspended the law in May 2022. The Indian government had promised to “re-consider” and “re-examine” the British colonial-era law after its constitutional validity was challenged in the Supreme Court by journalists and human rights organizations.
“We are deeply concerned by the Indian Law Commission’s recommendation to retain the country’s colonial-era sedition law–which has been repeatedly abused to stifle freedom of the press and expression–and to enhance its punishment and implement an overbroad definition for sedition,” said Beh Lih Yi, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “The Indian government must formulate a timeline to repeal the sedition law and ensure it is never again used against any journalist for doing their job.”
Under the current Indian statute, sedition is described as attempts to create “hatred or contempt” or excite “disaffection” towards the government by spoken or written words, signs, or “visible representation.”
The commission recommended adding to the definition “with a tendency to incite violence or cause public disorder,” according to independent news website The Print. The interpretation of “tendency” would mean “mere inclination to incite violence or cause public disorder rather than proof of actual violence or imminent threat to violence.”
The commission also proposed increasing the punishment of sedition from up to three years’ imprisonment to seven years and keeping the potential penalties of life imprisonment or a fine.
India Law Minister Arjun Ram Meghwal said the recommendations were not binding, and a final decision will be made after consulting all stakeholders.
CPJ’s emails to Meghwal and Ritu Raj Awasthi, chair of the Law Commission, did not receive any replies.
The sedition law has often been used in India to target journalists. In 2012, CPJ wrote to the then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh demanding its repeal.