Government cannot slap sedition charges for fair criticism: Bombay High Court

Mumbai(PTI): Witty and humorous cartoons and caricatures against government do not attract sedition charges, the Bombay High Court ruled on Tuesday while observing that such charges cannot be slapped for merely criticising those in power unless such writing or saying incites violence or causes public disorder.

“Citizens have the right to say or write anything criticising the government and its measures as far as it does not incite violence or create problems in law and order,” a division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice G S Kulkarni said.

The bench passed the ruling on a public interest litigation filed by a lawyer, Sanskar Marathe in 2012 after the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi on charges of sedition for drawing cartoons that allegedly insulted the national emblem and Parliament.

Trivedi’s cartoons were displayed at the movement started by anti-corruption crusader Anna Hazare. The Kanpur-based cartoonist, associated with Hazare’s anti-graft movement, was arrested on September 8, 2012, which caused a public outcry.

“After having seen the seven cartoons drawn by Aseem Trivedi we find it difficult to find any wit or humour in it.

The cartoons which were part of the movement initiated by Anna Hazare had no element of wit or humour in it. It only displayed anger and disgust. But that does not mean that it attracts sedition charges as it did not invoke violence,” the court said.

Soon after the petition was filed, the Maharashtra government had come up with a draft circular for all police stations on how to handle such cases.

“The guidelines that the government has come up with shall be widely circulated to all authorities concerned,” the court said while disposing of the PIL.

While granting bail to Trivedi in 2012, the HC castigated police for arresting him on “frivolous grounds and without application of mind.”

The government had then said it was dropping the charge of sedition against Trivedi and would come out with a circular specifying the limitations and parameters for application of sedition charge in future.

According to the draft circular, criticism of political leaders or government per se does not call for pressing of sedition charge.

It said the sedition charge would apply only if the said act creates disaffection towards the government and incites violence.

“Words, signs or representations must bring the government into hatred or contempt or must cause or attempt to cause disaffection, enmity or disloyalty to the government. They must be incitement to violence or must be intended to create public disorder….” it said.

Words, signs of representations against politicians or public servants per se do not fall under the category of sedition.

“Comments expressing disapproval or criticism of the government with a view to obtaining change of government by lawful means are not seditious under section 124 (a) of IPC.

Obscenity or vulgarity should also not be taken into account under this charge,” the circular reads.

It said that police officials should seek a legal opinion in writing from the law officer, followed by that of the public prosecutor, before applying sedition charge against any person.

Posted by on March 17, 2015. Filed under Nation. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.