Letters   |   India

Indian government should repeal sedition law

December 18, 2012

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
South Block, Raisina Hill
New Delhi 110011
India

Via email: pmosb@pmo.nic.in; facsimile +91-11-23019334

Dear Prime Minister Singh,

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by Indian authorities' continued abuse of a colonial-era sedition law to stifle freedom of expression. CPJ calls on your government to begin taking action toward repealing the law, section 124A in the Indian penal code, which Indian lawmakers have deemed punitive and outdated.

A landmark Supreme Court decision in 1962 held that the Indian government could not invoke a charge of sedition unless the accused incited violence through speech or action. Yet authorities have used the law to threaten journalists and human rights defenders. India again appeared on CPJ's global census of imprisoned journalists this year; of the three journalists jailed in the country, two have been charged under the sedition law. Sudhir Dhawale, who was arrested in January 2011, and Lingaram Kodopi, jailed in Chhattisgarh since September 2011, were charged in connection with their coverage of fighting between Maoists and the government. There have been virtually no developments in either of the cases.

Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was arrested in September and charged with sedition in connection with his cartoons highlighting corruption. Shortly after Trivedi was released on bail and the sedition charges dropped, Indian lawmakers began to discuss the need for a revision of the law. India's Group of Ministers on Media, which represents the government on issues in the media, agreed in an internal discussion in September that the sedition law should be amended, according to news reports citing sources at the meeting. One minister in the group, then-Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni, acknowledged in a letter to the group's chairman that the law should be revised, news reports said.

In October, J. L. Chugh, joint secretary of the Indian Home Ministry, issued a statement to the local People's Vigilance Committee on Human Rights in India, and said a hearing would be convened to discuss the sedition law, according to CPJ's review of the statement. But the notice did not include a date or offer further details about the hearing. Two months have passed since that communique without further indications from your government about a specific timetable for addressing this critical issue.

A consensus has begun to emerge among Indian lawmakers about the need for a revision of the sedition law. CPJ believes that repealing the law would represent a commitment to press freedom and human rights that is in keeping with India's democratic character. Democracies across the globe have already acted to repeal their sedition laws. The United Kingdom--the progenitor of the sedition law in India--repealed it in 2010.

Action is urgently needed in India. We ask that your government begin formulating a timeline to repeal the sedition law, and call on you to ensure that the sedition charges are dropped in the cases of Dhawale and Kodopi.

We look forward to your response on this urgent matter.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director


CC list:

Hon. Sushilkumar Shinde
Minister of Home Affairs
North Block
Central Secretariat
New Delhi - 110 001
India
skshinde@sansad.nic.in; facsimile +91 23093750, 23092763

Dr. Ashwani Kumar
Minister of Law and Justice
Room No. 402, A-Wing
Shastri Bhawan
New Delhi - 110 001
India
akumar@del2.vsnl.net.in; facsimile +91 23384241

Amb. Nirupama Rao
Ambassador of India to the United States
Embassy of India
2107 Massachusetts Avenue, NW
Washington, D.C.
USA
indembwash@indiagov.org; facsimile 202 2654351

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