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Criticism of the govt does not amount to sedition: Supreme Court
The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that sedition or defamation cases cannot be slapped on anyone for criticising the government.

"Someone making a statement to criticise the government does not invoke an offence under sedition or defamation law. We have made it clear that invoking of section 124(A) of IPC (sedition) requires certain guidelines to be followed as per the earlier judgement of the apex court," the bench said.

The court was hearing a case of Common Cause, an NGO which had been charged with sedition. Appearing for the NGO, advocate Prashant Bhushan said that sedition was a serious offence and as a law, was being grossly misused for stifling dissent.

He cited the examples of sedition charges being slapped on agitators protesting against Kudankulam Nuclear Power Project and cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, among others.

A bench of Justices Dipak Misra and Uday U. Lalit said that the authorities were "bound by" the 1962 Constitution Bench ruling in the case of Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar. According to that ruling, an individual can be charged for sedition only if his acts lead to "incitement to violence or intention or tendency to create public disorder or cause disturbance of public peace".

"We don't have to explain the sedition law. It's already there in the five-judge constitution bench judgment in Kedar Nath Singh vs state of Bihar of 1962," the bench said.

"We are of the considered opinion that the authorities while dealing with the offences under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code shall be guided by the principles laid down by the Constitution Bench in Kedar Nath Singh vs. State of Bihar case. Except saying so, we do not intend to deal with any other issue as we are of the considered opinion that it is not necessary to do so. The writ petition is accordingly disposed off," the order said.

While the court made it clear that mere criticism of the government does not amount to sedition or defamation, it refused to pass a direction on the plea that a copy of this order be sent to all Chief Secretaries of states and the Directors General of Police.

"You have to file separate plea highlighting if any misuse of sedition law is there. In criminal jurisprudence, allegations and cognisance have to be case specific, otherwise it will go haywire. There can't be any generalisation," the bench said.

Bhushan said law has not been amended after the Kedar Nath Singh judgment by the apex court and that a constable does not understand the judgment, but what he understands is the section in the IPC.

"Constables don't need to understand. It is the magistrate who needs to understand and follow the guidelines as laid down by the apex court while invoking sedition charges," the apex court said. The court was hearing a plea seeking the apex court's intervention to address the "misuse" of section 124(A) of the IPC contending that such a charge was being framed with a view to "instil fear and scuttle dissent."

Alleging misuse of the law, the NGO's pleaded that "there has been an increase in the number of cases of sedition against intellectuals, activists, students, with the latest being the sedition charge on Amnesty India for organising a debate on Kashmir." It also cited NCRB data that has recorded 47 cases of sedition in 2014 in which 58 persons have been arrested but only one has been convicted so far.

"In this regard, a petition has been filed to address the misuse and misapplication of Section 124A (sedition law) by the Centre and various State Governments leading to routine persecution of students, journalists and intellectuals engaged in social activism. It is submitted that these charges are framed with a view to instill fear and to scuttle dissent," the court said.

"There is a procedure prescribed under the CrPC regarding registration of FIRs and we cannot change it by issuing directives. It (the sedition PIL) may be an important matter but we have our own limitations. We can, however, say that sedition as an offence has been read down and all courts are bound by this interpretation," the bench added.

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