Human Rights Watch (HRW) Tuesday published a call for India to end its controversial sedition law. The sedition law is a statute from the colonial era when India was controlled by the United Kingdom. According to HRW, the law “remains a powerful tool used by the authorities to criminalise dissent and arrest peaceful critics of the government.”
More recently, HRW claims Prime Minister Narendra Modi has used the law to punish activists and protesters. According to a database by Indian nonprofit article-14, sedition cases have increased 28 percent under Modi’s government. Of the 500 charges filed under the law since 2014, 149 have been for “critical or derogatory” comments against Modi himself.
Senior researchers for HRW stated:
While the courts ultimately dismiss most sedition cases, the process itself becomes the punishment. In one example, three Kashmiri Muslim students spent nearly six months in jail for allegedly celebrating Pakistan’s win over India in a cricket match in October 2021.
The current law was reviewed by the Indian Supreme Court in 1962 and found to be constitutional. However, HRW is calling for the Indian parliament to repeal the law in its current session, which begins Tuesday. HRW also claims the law violates article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India ratified in 1979.
Other former colonies like Uganda, Gambia and Nigeria have recently grappled with similar sedition laws.