The sedition charge against The Times of India, Ahmedabad, filed by the city’s new police chief is unacceptable. If the press debates the appointment of a senior police officer on the basis of official records about his alleged role in a police-criminal nexus, can he simply slap a case of sedition?
Filing such a charge of waging war against the state with impunity only amounts to deplorable abuse of power and gross violation of the freedom of the press. That’s how O.P. Mathur, the new police commissioner of Ahmedabad, has responded to reportage by a correspondent of the city edition of the paper by charging him and his resident editor.
The reporter had pointed to allegations against Mathur by an underworld don with suspected terrorist links — which he had found in court records. He said these were never investigated as they were explosive. Adding that it had faded out of “collective memory”, he sought to flag the issue in the public domain.
That’s one of the jobs of the free press which a democratic polity is bound to protect and nurture. If there is irresponsible reportage, one could file a case of defamation — and let the law take its course. There’s something very wrong somewhere if the press can’t express its concerns with the freedom that our democracy offers it as a constitutional right. India is showing increasingly disturbing signs of intolerance for the freedom of expression. In 2006, for instance, Narendra Modi’s government had charged Manoj Shinde, editor of the Surat Saamna, for his “abusive words” against Modi and his officers, alleging administrative failure in tackling the flood situation in Surat.
The law on sedition seems quite prone to abuse. It does say that mere criticism of the government does not amount to sedition if it does not incite people to disobey it and lead to anarchy — but, in fact, it seems to support the tendency of the powers-that-be to hold themselves beyond reproach. There have been several cases of sedition charges against civil rights activists expressing their concerns against state-led violations as well. In Uttar Pradesh, Magsaysay award winner Sandeep Pandey and his fellow activists were charged (later dropped) a few years ago. A very recent example is the case against T.G. Ajay who, as Amnesty International says, is a film-maker documenting problems faced by local communities in protecting their rights in Chhattisgarh. We feel it’s time to rethink the sedition law itself.
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