A Supreme Court order asked the government and state authorities to refrain from registering fresh cases under the harsh law while it was under review.

The court also put on hold all pending cases, appeals and proceedings with respect to charges framed under the 152-year-old law.
The court also put on hold all pending cases, appeals and proceedings with respect to charges framed under the 152-year-old law. (GETTY IMAGES/FILE PHOTO)

India’s apex court has put the country’s colonial-era sedition law on hold, a move that comes amid allegations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's government was increasingly using it to silence criticism and dissent.

Wednesday's Supreme Court order asked the Indian government and state authorities to refrain from registering fresh cases under the harsh law while it was under review. 

It also allowed accused people detained under it to seek bail from courts.

“It will be appropriate not to use this provision of law till further reexamination is over,” the three-judge bench headed by India’s Chief Justice NV Ramana said in New Delhi.

The order put on hold all pending cases, appeals and proceedings with respect to charges framed under the 152-year-old law.

The British colonial government used the draconian piece of legislation against Mahatma Gandhi and other leaders of a campaign for independence.

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Controversial law

India’s sedition law, like its equivalent in other formerly British-ruled countries, offers a legal framework to categorise a citizen as a threat to the state. 

Globally, it is increasingly viewed as a draconian law and was revoked in the United Kingdom in 2010.

Modi's government had told the court this week it was reviewing the law, which says anyone bringing hatred or contempt, or incites disaffection towards the government, can be punished with up to life in prison.

Its use to silence critics in India isn’t new. 

During previous governments, people were charged with sedition for liking a Facebook post critical of the administration, criticising a yoga guru, cheering a rival cricket team and drawing political cartoons.

But under Modi, critics say, India is growing notoriously intolerant, its crackdown on critics unprecedented in scale.

The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government has increasingly brandished the law to silence intellectuals, human rights activists, filmmakers, students and journalists, with police arguing that words or actions of dissent make them a threat to national security.

Senior counsel Kapil Sibal told the court that at least 13,000 people were in jail under the law.

Critics say the long and slow judicial process becomes punishment for the accused seeking justice. India’s notoriously slow criminal justice system ensures that the movement and speech of the accused are severely hamstrung as long as cases remain pending.

While charged, people can’t obtain passports or government jobs, and must show up to court as required.

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Source: TRTWorld and agencies