Social media posts to texts, why all parties love the sedition law

FROM AN editorial linked to a government hoarding to remarks against the Prime Minister in a pre-poll speech, from a video clip with disputed audio to a message on a housing society WhatsApp group — all of these have been booked for sedition under the draconian IPC section 124A for offences punishable with imprisonment upto three years and a fine, or imprisonment for life and a fine.

An analysis by The Indian Express of 14 key sedition cases lodged over the past year show that governments across the country, in states ruled by both BJP and Congress, have wielded the seemingly charge at the drop of a hat against a sweeping range of alleged offences .

This assumes significance at a time when the Supreme Court is hearing challenging the constitutional validity of IPC section 124A — and will soon decide if the matter should be referred to a larger bench.

Of the 14 sedition cases, BJP-ruled UP topped the chart with four, including one against former UP Governor Aziz Qureshi for alleged remarks about the government. Two of the other cases were filed against Opposition candidates in the run-up to the state elections.

Next in line is Congress-ruled Chhattisgarh with two cases, including one against a former IG of police over “inflammatory pieces of writing” against the government.

The latest on the list is also the most high-profile — that of MLA-MP couple Ravi and Navneet Rana for threatening to chant the Hanuman Chalisa outside Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s residence in Mumbai last month.

The other key cases are equally striking, both for range and nature: from pro-Pakistan slogans to a social media post against law enforcement, from remarks against UP Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath to a threat to attack the state with a cannon over the farmers’ protests — and a new Tamil flag.

Consider these:

4 cases in UP

⦾ Bijnor Police booked SP-RLD candidate Dr Neeraj Chaudhary on February 3 over a video of his supporters purportedly shouting “Pakistan Zindabad” slogans. The candidate disputed the police’s interpretation of the audio and said they were actually hailing his associate Aqib Ansari.

case status: Video sent to a state forensic lab, report awaited.

⦾ Congress leader Ajay Rai was charged by Varanasi Police on February 5 for allegedly making objectionable comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath at a public meeting on January 31.

case status: Investigation is on.

⦾ Last September, Rampur Police booked former UP Governor Aziz Qureshi for allegedly making derogatory comments about the state government after meeting jailed SP leader Azam Khan’s wife. The case was filed on a complaint from local BJP leader Akash Saxena.

case status: Investigation is on.

⦾ Last October, Agra Police arrested three engineering students, Arsheed Yusuf, Inayat Altaf Sheikh and Showkat Ahmed Ganai, for allegedly celebrating the victory of Pakistan against India in the T20 World Cup, and “anti-India” messages on WhatsApp. The three were beneficiaries of the PM’s Special Scholarship Scheme for J&K students.

case status: Chargesheet filed, letter sent to state government seeking sanction for prosecution.

2 cases in Chhattisgarh

⦾ A case was filed against IPS officer GP Singh, the former Raipur IG, on July 3, 2021, on a complaint from the Anti-Corruption Bureau. The action was taken after a diary containing “serious and sensitive information” and “inflammatory pieces of writing against the government and its policy” were found during searches conducted at premises linked to Singh. He was arrested on January 11.

case status: In judicial custody.

⦾ Religious leader Kalicharan was booked last December for allegedly making derogatory remarks about Mahatma Gandhi at a Dharam Sansad in Raipur. The FIR was filed on a complaint from Congress leader Pramod Dubey. Kalicharan was arrested from Madhya Pradesh on December 30.

case status: Granted bail on April 6.

Assam

⦾ On December 4, 2021, a journalist, Anirban Roy Choudhury, was booked for an editorial published on a news portal in Cachar on the arrest of politician Pradip Dutt Roy. Dutt Roy had earlier been booked for issuing an ultimatum over a government hoarding written in Assamese, saying it violated the Assam Official Language Act. Choudhury’s editorial had the headline: “Welcome to the paradise of the spineless — we are Assamese, ‘Bhasha Shaheeds’ are dead and so are their descendants.” The complaint against the editorial, filed by a member of the All Assam Bengali Hindu Association, claimed it could “hamper brotherhood between Bengalis and Assamese of Assam”.

Status: Granted bail.

Gujarat

⦾ On February 20, advocate Sohil Mor was booked after a neighbor accused him of posting an objectionable statement about Chhatrapati Shivaji on their housing society WhatsApp group. Mor was also accused of allegedly tearing a picture of a deity when confronted by the complainant, and allegedly slapping a police constable who tried to intervene.

case status: In judicial custody.

Haryana

⦾ Khap leader Sunil Gulia was booked in Jhajjar on January 15, 2021, for uploading a video on social media in which he allegedly vowed to “attack the government with a cannon” if the farm protesters’ demands were not met.

case status: Charges dropped after the state government agreed to withdraw all cases registered against protesting farmers.

Jammu and Kashmir

⦾ Fahad Shah, editor-in-chief of The Kashmir Walla online magazine, was arrested on February 4 by Pulwama Police. The police said his social media posts caused a “dent to the image of law enforcing agencies besides causing ill will and disaffection against the country”.

Shah received bail on February 26, but was rearrested in another case in Shopian. On March 5, he received bail but was arrested again in a case registered in Srinagar in 2020. The police also booked him under the Public Safety Act (PSA), which allows for detention without trial for upto one year.

case status: Under detention in Srinagar.

Jharkhand

⦾ Eight people were booked on April 20, for raising the slogan ‘Pakistan Zindabad’. “There is a direct allegation against the accused (Shakir Hussain and eight others) of conduct of speech inciting rebellion against the authority of the state by raising the slogan of ‘Pakistan Zindabad’,” court documents show.

case status: All accused in jail.

Maharashtra

⦾ Independent lawmaker-couple Navneet and Ravi Rana were arrested on April 23 after they threatened to recite the Hanuman Chalisa outside the residence of Uddhav Thackeray if their demand to remove loudspeakers from mosques was not met. Police said the couple’s announcement “challenges the writ of the state machinery and invokes hate and dislike against the government”.

case status: Granted bail.

Manipur

⦾ A lawyer, Sanaojam Samacharon, was booked on April 12, on a complaint from BJP’s youth wing BJYM, for allegedly using derogatory language against Union Home Minister Amit Shah and abusive remarks against the “mainland Indian” during a local TV talk show.

case status: Granted bail.

Tamil Nadu

⦾ Naam Tamilar Katchi leader Seeman was booked last November for hoisting a separate flag for the state during “Tamil Nadu Day” and for making controversial comments in a speech.

case status: Action pending.

(With inputs from Lucknow, Raipur, Guwahati, Ahmedabad, Chandigarh, Srinagar, Ranchi, Mumbai and Chennai)

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