Checks and Balances

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India’s Supreme Court ordered the temporary suspension of the country’s sedition law Wednesday, legislation human rights advocates say has been used by the government to curb dissent and free speech, CNN reported.

The top court said it would pause the law until the government conducts a review. And individuals arrested under the law can apply for bail.

The verdict came after the court received a series of petitions challenging the law and accusing the government of misusing it.

The law was originally introduced by the British colonial government in 1860 to prohibit “words either spoken or written, or by signs or visible representation” that attempt to cause “hatred or contempt or excite or attempt to excite disaffection,” toward the government. Those convicted under sedition charges face more than three years in prison.

Observers say government officials have used the law to silence activists, journalists and other critics. They added that since Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party took over in 2014, India has seen an increase in the law’s application.

In 2015, the country’s National Crime Records Bureau reported that 30 people were charged with sedition that year. That number increased to 73 in 2020.

Former Supreme Court Judge Rohinton Nariman had criticized the use of the law, saying that students and stand-up comedians were being charged for being critical of the government.

Yet, he added, those inciting hatred and genocide against Muslims were getting away with it – referring to the comments made by right-wing Hindus at a three-day event in the city of Haridwar in December.

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