Pakistan court strikes down colonial-era ‘sedition’ law

The court struck down the offence of sedition, terming it repugnant to the fundamental rights of the citizens and inconsistent with the Constitution.

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Lahore: A high court in Pakistan on Thursday struck down a colonial-era sedition law that criminalised criticism of the federal and provincial governments, terming it inconsistent with the Constitution as reported by PTI.

Justice Shahid Karim of the Lahore High Court (LHC) annulled Section 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) dealing with sedition, the Dawn newspaper reported.

Justice Karim pronounced the verdict in response to identical petitions seeking to annul the sedition law, the paper said.

The provision is similar to Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which the country’s Supreme Court had last year put on hold.

The offence of sedition, if proven in both countries, carried a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

One of the petitions against Pakistan’s sedition law said that it is a notorious tool for the suppression of “free speech and criticism in free and independent Pakistan”.

The petition added: “Every passing day, the intensity of registration of FIRs [first information reports] under this section is snowballing while the people of Pakistan have suffered a lot, as almost every criticism of government or state institutions has been treated as an offence under Section 124-A by law enforcement agencies.”

Justice Shahid Karim of the Lahore High Court (LHC) annulled the offence of sedition under section 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) while delivering the verdict on a batch of petitions that argued it was being used by ruling political parties against their rivals.

The law of sedition as contained in section 124-A was a residue and relic of the oppressive colonial legacy which had been introduced to rule the subjects not citizens, therefore, the provisions of the impugned section were repugnant to the constitutional guarantees including freedom of speech, movement, assembly, association and expression provided under Articles 15, 16, 17 and 19 of the Constitution, the petitioner said.

The petitioner’s counsel argued that the word ‘government’ as exists in section 124-A, PPC was surely and squarely defeated the freedoms which were created by the Constitution.

“The impugned section be declared void and ultra vires being inconsistent with and in derogation of fundamental rights in view of the mandate of Article 8 of the Constitution,” he pleaded.

After hearing the arguments, the court struck down the offence of sedition, terming it repugnant to the fundamental rights of the citizens protected in the Constitution.

The law states: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Federal or Provincial Government established by law shall be punished with imprisonment for life to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

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The petition stated that the Constitution of Pakistan gives every citizen the right to freedom of expression but still, Section 124-A is imposed for making speeches against the rulers.

According to the petition, the law has been recklessly used in Pakistan as a tool of exploitation to curb the right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution.

The petition said the law was serving as “a notorious tool for the suppression of dissent, free speech and criticism in free and independent Pakistan”.

Over the past few years, the petition argued, various politicians, journalists and activists had been booked under Section 124-A of the PPC.

“Every passing day, the intensity of registration of FIRs under this section is snowballing while the people of Pakistan have suffered a lot, as almost every criticism of the government or state institutions has been treated as an offence under Section 124-A by law enforcement agencies.”

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