Drive to scrap gag law

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By PHEROZE VINCENT
  • Published 31.01.12
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New Delhi, Jan. 30: Rights organisations today launched a campaign to collect a million signatures against draconian sedition laws, the kickoff coming on the death anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, who was among those jailed under such acts.

The focus of the drive 65 years after Independence is on repealing Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code — which outlaws disaffection against the state and makes it punishable with life imprisonment.

Retired judge Rajinder Sachar, among those who spoke at the launch of the campaign, referred to a promise by Jawaharlal Nehru.

“It seems tragic that we should be asking the government to redeem the pledge of Nehru. For having a democratic society, it is necessary that these laws go,” Sachar said. Speaking on 124A, Nehru had told Parliament in 1951 that the “the sooner we got rid of it the better”.

Sedition is also criminalised under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) and other laws to maintain security in states.

V. Suresh, national secretary of the People’s Union for Civil Liberties’ (PUCL), said while thousands had been arrested over sedition, the conviction rate was negligible. “They are invariably acquitted after spending four to five years in prison. The law is used against anyone who raises his or her voice even against development policies, such as those protesting against the Kudankulam nuclear power station.”

Suresh highlighted another loophole. “There are no statistics on how many people have been booked under these laws. The National Crime Records Bureau does not have statistics of arrests for sedition.”

Tomorrow, activists will converge here to plan how to take the campaign forward.