49 prominent citizens wrote an open letter to Prime Minister to end ongoing lynching acts and other hate crimes. FIR have been registered against these citizens on charges of sedition at a police station in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, under the Sedition Law.

There was nothing in the appeal, which asks for steps to stop lynching and other hate crimes, especially in the name of religion, that even vaguely connoted an attempt to promote disaffection or any prejudice to national integration.

How was FIR registered?
A lawyer initiated criminal proceedings against the film-makers, artists and writers such as Shyam Benegal, Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Aparna Sen and Ramachandra Guha for signing the open appeal on a matter of public concern. A chief judicial magistrate who was listening to the lawyer, asked the police to file FIR. Magistrates indeed have the power to order a police investigation into cognisable offences.

And the Supreme Court has, in Lalita Kumari vs. Uttar Pradesh (2013), laid down that registration of an FIR is mandatory if information received by the police discloses a cognisable offence, and that in some cases, a preliminary enquiry may be conducted before the FIR is registered. However, in this case, it is quite astounding how the court or the police could conclude that the contents were seditious or indicative of any other offence.

Surely, the court should have been aware of the ongoing national debate on retaining sedition as an offence under the IPC’s Section 124A and growing demand for its abrogation. In present matter, the magistrate has disregarded Supreme Court judgments that say sedition is attracted only if there is incitement to violence, and does not apply to statements that contain mere opinions, howsoever strong they may be.

It is unfortunate that the court did not see that the complaint was nothing more than a political counterblast to what the complainant saw as criticism of the Prime Minister. One can only hope that the Patna High Court puts an end to this farcical attempt to use the judiciary for political ends, and also examine how its supervisory powers can be used to sensitise the magistracy to the constitutional provisions protecting free speech.

Source: The Hindu