Lahore High Court strikes down ‘Sedition Law’: Freedom after speech

LHC The Lahore High Court on Thursday declared sedition laws as ultra vires of the Constitution and struck down Section 12-A of the Pakistan Penal Code.

The order of the court came on a set of petitions filed by citizens challenging the sedition law on grounds that the government used it against its rivals. Justice Karim pronounced the judgment which was reserved on the petitions of Selman Abuzar Niazi and others. The petitions had challenged the registration of cases under sedition provisions against those who spoke against the government. It was argued in the petition that the sedition act was enacted in 1860 which is a sign of British colonial rule. It added that this law was used for slaves under which a case can be registered on anyone’s request. It was stated in the petition 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 petitioners, Section 124-A of sedition is being used for political purposes and should be struck down.

One of the petitions, filed by a citizen Haroon Farooq, which was identical to all other pleas urged the court to declare Section 124-A of the PPC as “ultra-vires in terms of Article 8 of the Constitution being inconsistent with and in derogation of fundamental rights provided under Article 9, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 19, 19A of the Constitution”.

The federal government defended the law, stating that it serves as a valid restriction to free speech if the spoken or written words incite violence or create public disorder.

Lawyers representing the government opposed the petitioners’ arguments, claiming that the sedition laws were used in accordance with the law.

The petitioners’ counsels argued that the use of Section 12-A deprives individuals of their fundamental right to freedom of expression.

The petitioner cited several examples of lawmakers, politicians, and journalists facing charges under the sedition laws based on arbitrary and politically motivated interpretations of Section 124-A by law enforcement agencies.

It quoted the case of Shahbaz Gill, saying he was being prosecuted under sedition charges. Likewise, the plea mentioned other lawmakers including Mohsin Dawar, Ali Wazir from Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), which it said, were also facing prosecution on basis of sedition charges.

“Moreover, various prominent journalists, namely, Arshad Sharif, Khawar Ghumman, Adeel Raja and Sadaf Abdul Jabbar are facing prosecution on the basis of sedition charges. Javed Hashmi was also sentenced to 23 years in prison on sedition charges,” the plea noted.

It went on to say that almost all individuals who had been booked, investigated, and prosecuted on sedition charges under Section 124-A were acquitted “since most of these cases were politically motivated and based on vague, ambiguous, bald, and uncertain allegations, and subjective understanding, interpretation, and enforcement of Sedition law by law enforcement agencies.”

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.”

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) leader and former minister Fawad Chaudhry has hailed the Lahore High Court (LHC) for striking down Section 124-A of the criminal law that pertains to sedition.

Fawad took to Twitter and retweeted Advocate Abuzar Salman Niazi ‘s tweet, who moved the LHC against the colonial-era law. “Congratulations, Salman Niazi, you have done a huge service to the nation. Shaheed Arshad Sharif must be smiling in the heavens… stay blessed,” wrote Fawad in his tweet. He said the Lahore High Court declared Section 124-A of the criminal law in conflict with the Constitution, whereby recognising the constitutional right to criticise state institutions. “This decision will end dozens of politically-motivated cases, including case against me. It is a very high decision that recognizes freedom,” Fawad noted.

Source:  Daily Times

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