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Sedition Repealed Or Concealed? Section 150 Of BNS Bill 2023 Seems Wider In Scope And Harsher In Punishment

Sedition Repealed Or Concealed? Section 150 Of BNS Bill 2023 Seems Wider In Scope And Harsher In Punishment

On Friday, August 11th, Union Home Minister Amit Shah introduced the revamped Indian Penal Code (IPC) as the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita, 2023, in front of the Lok Sabha. During the address and discussion, Shah announced the intention to completely eliminate the offense of sedition, as outlined in Section 124A of the IPC. He conveyed that the proposed legislation, called as the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, 2023, would undergo examination by a parliamentary panel for thorough evaluation. Shah underlined in his speech that the right to freedom of speech is paramount and further claimed, “Everyone has the right to speak. We are completely repealing sedition.

While the word “sedition” has been removed from the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, 2023, a deeper look indicates that the offense itself appears to have been kept but given a new name. The bill expands the definition of “acts endangering sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India,” omitting the language “disaffection towards the Government established by law in India” that was previously included in the IPC’s Section 124A.

India throws out sedition law, brings in new Bill criminalising separatism  and secession activities

Critics of the new measure, including lawyers as well as experts in criminal law, contend that it includes sections relating to offenses that are similar to those covered by the currently existing sedition provision. Despite appearing to be abolished, sedition is still illegal under the suggested Indian law, albeit with an alternative title. Furthermore, the new bill includes heightened penalties for such offenses.

According to the proposed legislation, any action that seeks to incite or make an attempt to incite secession, armed rebellion, subversive activities, or encourages sentiments of separatist actions, or poses a threat to India’s sovereignty, unity, and integrity, will be subject to punishment pursuant to Section 150 of the bill. As a result, while the announcement implied that legislation would lead to a complete repeal of sedition, the actual legal amendments present a more complicated scenario, retaining similar prohibitions under a different framework with potentially more punitive repercussions.

Surbhi Karwa, a lawyer, researcher, as well as PhD candidate at the University of New South Wales, claims that the new Bill has dropped the term “sedition” in favor of a new provision that classifies offenses that jeopardize India’s sovereignty, unity, and integrity. Karwa emphasized that despite the absence of the word “sedition,” the language in this paragraph expands the definition of the crime that is currently in place. Sedition is currently punishable by a maximum sentence of three years in jail or life in prison. The recently added clause lengthens the three-year prison sentence to seven years.

‘Nothing Really Changed’: Experts on The New Bill

When it comes to the topic of sedition, Supreme Court attorney Chitranshul Sinha remarked that the new Bill is like old wine in a new bottle. He contested the sentencing guidelines, pointing out that violations of Section 150 of the bill entail a sentence of up to seven years in jail or life in prison. Sinha expressed doubts regarding the clarity of this line of reasoning and the methodology courts would use to reach judgments in these situations. He asked-

“Does this imply that a person will either receive lifelong imprisonment or exactly seven years in jail, with no intermediate options? What is the underlying rationale for this differentiation, and how will the judicial system determine it?”

Retain law on sedition but with safeguards against misuse: Law Commission  tells govt- The New Indian Express

According to Naveed Ahmed, a senior resident fellow working for the Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy in Bengaluru, the new Bill has some provisions that are more vaguely worded than the IPC’s sedition statute. He said that the definition of sedition as it applies to this new charge goes much farther.

Ahmed emphasized that the poor contextual antecedents and ambiguous phrasing of the original sedition law were weaknesses. He did point out that the new bill’s Section 150 contains phrases like “excites,” “encourages,” “feelings of separatist activities,” as well as “subversive activities.” He claimed that because of the lack of precise definitions, it is extremely difficult to establish the range of behaviors that fall under the headings of “encouraging,” “feeling,” or “subversive activities.”

A lawyer and researcher named Surbhi Karwa added to the conversation by pointing out that the new Bill’s provisions appear to go beyond what is specified in the existing sedition statutes. She singled out Section 150, where it is stated that “someone who excites or attempts to excites, secession or armed rebellion or subversive activities” is violating the law.

Karwa brought up an important point, claiming that the new rules’ formulation seemed to have overlooked important concepts of criminal law. She underlined that it is necessary to fully identify the nature of the offense whenever something is declared to be unlawful. However, phrases like “subversive activities” or “feelings of separatist activities” are extremely general and ambiguous, which could make it difficult to interpret them.

The new addition, which the law refers to as Section 150, adopts a more focused strategy than the prior clause. Secessionism, separatist sympathies, and encouragement of violent insurrection are all openly addressed in this section. Contrary to the current Section 124A, it interestingly refrains from using words like “contempt” or “hatred” for the Government of India.

However, there are a number of possible interpretations given the language employed in Section 150. Notably, neither does it establish a link to public order nor does it include a standard for inciting violence within the proposed provision. The proposed Section 150 keeps criminalizing behaviors that “excite or attempt to excite” secessionist operations or which “encourage feelings of separatist activities.” This contrasts with the idea that provoking violence or upsetting the peace is a requirement before filing charges.

Additionally, the Section 150 of the 2023 bill stipulates sanctions for anybody who “engage in or commit any such act.” This gives law enforcement authorities more freedom to decide which actions qualify as “endangering sovereignty, unity, and integrity of India” and can result in charges being brought against them. A notable feature is that Article 19(2) gives the government the authority to create laws that place reasonable restrictions on free expression “in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India.” This implies that the constitutional clause is the source of the proposed law’s legality as well as justification.

Whoever, purposely or knowingly, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or by electronic communication or by use of financial means, or otherwise, excites or attempts to excite, secession or armed rebellion or subversive activities, or encourages feelings of separatist activities or endangers sovereignty or unity and integrity of India; or indulges in or commits any such act shall be punished with imprisonment for life or with imprisonment which may extend to seven years and shall also be liable to fine.”

– SECTION 150 of Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill 2023

 

Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Government established by law in India, shall be punished with imprisonment for life, to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.

– SECTION 124A of Indian Penal Code

When both the previous and the current provisions are compared, it is clear that Section 150 of the new bill incorporates notions such as “electronic communication” along with “use of financial means” as instruments which could assist actions jeopardizing India’s sovereignty, unity, as well as integrity.

Experts believe, however, that Section 150, by criminalizing any conduct that threatens India’s sovereignty, unity, or integrity, embraces a wide variety of behaviors. This consists of speeches, written content in the form of books and articles, dramatic performances, as well as additional acts that are currently classified as sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.

The necessity for a legislation similar to sedition in situations where there are already other legal measures addressing such concerns, as stated by senior attorney Sidharth Luthra, is an important matter even though the former Section 124A has been modified. He also emphasizes the inclusion of clauses addressing terrorism, organized crime, as well as criminal activity in the new legislation. The justification for keeping any type of sedition clause is dubious given that India is a democratic country where the people have ultimate power.

Law of Sedition in light of the Right To Freedom Of Speech And Expression ( Article 19 — Ylcube

Colin Gonsalves, a senior counsel, claims that the government’s claim that sedition has been repealed is erroneous. He argues that the latest component simply presents the same ideas in a somewhat different way. According to earlier Supreme Court decisions, sedition used to involve harsh language as well as some sort of action that signalled insurrection against the government. The new clause, however, makes the argument that even merely speaking out loud can be seen as engaging in anti-national activity, making the situation more severe than it was under the previous provision.

The prior clause that allowed someone convicted of sedition to avoid prison time by paying a fee is eliminated in the proposed version of Section 150 of the law, which is a significant change. In contrast, Section 150 of the law specifies a punishment that includes a fine along with a life sentence, or a sentence that can last up to seven years.

The Law Commission of India‘s suggestion from June is in line with this amendment. By increasing the potential prison term from the current three years under the Indian Penal Code (IPC) to seven years, the proposed revision seeks to improve the alternative punishment for the violation. Notably, the maximum punishment for this offense under the 2023 bill remains life in prison.

The usage of the phrase “subversive activities,” which Faizan Mustafa, a legal expert as well as vice chancellor of Chanakya National Law University, Patna, believes to be unduly broad, has raised concerns. Mustafa underlined that the word “subversive activities” may not comply to the core concept of criminal law, which aims to define offenses in the most explicit ways possible. He further pointed out that the bill’s justification is lacking. He emphasized that it is unclear if remarks that do not encourage or make an attempt to excite would nonetheless be illegal under this clause.

Senior Advocate Rebecca John, a criminal defense attorney, echoed Mustafa’s worry with the short explanation. She criticized the clause for its convoluted phrasing and lack of consistency. John emphasized the value of using plain language in legal requirements, taking into account the many parties involved, such as judges, attorneys, litigants, as well as police officers. She criticized the complex rules of the colonial era, saying that making the language more complicated could make it harder to understand and enforce.

In conclusion, it appears that the proposed changes to the Bharatiya Nyaya Sanhita Bill, 2023, put forth by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, will have a substantial impact on the criminal charge of sedition in India. Amit Shah said that the sedition law will be completely repealed, but a closer look at the clauses of the bill tells a different tale.

Notwithstanding the claim that sedition will no longer be tolerated, the law adds an additional provision under Section 150 that broadens the definition of related actions. Without using words like “contempt” or “hatred” for the government explicitly, this section turns the focus to actions that jeopardize India’s sovereignty, unity, and integrity. The newly introduced criterion could possibly cover a wider variety of behaviors because it does not require proof of encouragement to violence or disruption of the peace.

These findings show that Amit Shah’s assertion that sedition has been totally repealed is untrue. Although it goes by a different name, the new provision in Section 150 of the bill preserves the fundamental elements of the sedition offense while offering potentially larger reach and harsher punishments. As legal professionals and academics have pointed out, the bill adds complications and ambiguities that may obstruct accurate interpretation, application, as well as comprehension of the law.

The reasons Law Commission gave while recommending a stronger sedition law

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