The northeastern state of Manipur, which has the maximum number of sedition cases registered in 2020 has seen the sharpest rise since the year before. While it registered 15 cases in 2020, in 2019 Manipur had registered only one sedition case, while in 2018 it had four sedition cases.
Assam retained its spot as the second state with the maximum number of sedition cases, even though the number has fallen from 17 in 2019 to 12 in 2020.
Karnataka, which had registered 22 sedition cases in 2019, logged only eight cases in 2020.
Among other major states, Uttar Pradesh had the maximum with seven sedition cases in 2020, followed by Haryana and Delhi with six and five cases respectively.
According to the data from the National Crime Records Bureau (NCRB), released by the Home Ministry, overall 172 cases pertaining to offences against the state were registered this year. Though this is an increase from 149 and 166 cases in the years 2018 and 2019 respectively, the number of sedition cases has dropped.
In 2019, 93 sedition cases were registered whereas only 73 cases were logged in 2020.
According to Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, 1860, any act which tries to incite hatred, disaffection, or contempt towards the nation is sedition. Those who are charged with sedition are looked upon as anti-nationals and if convicted can attract a jail term of a period of three years to life, with or without a fine.
NCRB data further suggests that there are 230 sedition cases in all (including cases from previous years), of which 109 cases are for trial. There were 86 cases pending trial, while 23 fresh cases were sent to trial last year. The pendency rate is as high as 94.5%.
The police filed 14 chargesheets from the 73 cases in 2020. The prosecution found 10 cases to be true but couldn't prove it for lack of sufficient evidence.
Of the 44 persons arrested in sedition cases, only two are female. Of the 27 chargesheeted, only one is a female. There are six cases where trials have been completed and six where the courts have disposed of the cases. The prosecution got two convictions from previous years and four acquittals. Three men have been convicted, while four acquitted.
Supreme Court expresses concern over abuse of sedition
Data suggests that criticism of the ruling-dispensation is being perceived as disaffection toward the country. NCRB data shows that four of the six states with the maximum number of cases are led by the BJP.
On July 15, the supreme court expressed concern over the abuse of the sedition law and the lack of Executive accountability for the same. The top court observed that the authorities have enormous potential to misuse it which poses a threat to the functioning of democracy.
The top court's observation came on a plea filed by retired army official SG Vombatkere's plea challenging the constitutional validity of section 124A of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) which penalises sedition.
Earlier this year in February the top court had issued notice on journalist Kishorechandra Wangkchem's plea challenging the constitutionality of the sedition law.
In May 2021, Justice DY Chandrachud observed that in a modern democracy, there was no place for a law like sedition. He said it was time "to define the limits of sedition" while barring the state of Andra Pradesh from taking coercive action against two local news channels for their coverage of COVID in the state.
In fact, prior to this hearing, Justice Chandrachud made an offhand comment on how he had read a news report about a dead body of an alleged COVID positive person that was thrown into river and whether a sedition case has been filed against the news channel yet.
Critics have called sedition tyrannical and a hangover from colonial times. In fact, the use, or rather the alleged misuse of law against government critics has seen India's ranking slipping on the democracy index.
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