"State using iron hand to curb free speech": Justice Madan Lokur raises concerns over misuse of sedition law & preventive detention
During virtual discussion streamed live on Asiaville on "Freedom of speech and judiciary", the former Supreme Court judge laid down how the state is overreacting and is rampantly using sedition law, UAPA, & preventive detention to curb free speech.
Expressing concerns over how the state is rampantly using sedition laws,Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), National Security Act (NSA) & preventive detention against dissenting citizens, retired Supreme Court judge Justice Madan B Lokur said the state is using an iron hand to curb free speech.
Justice Lokur raised these issues at a virtual discussion on "Freedom of speech and judiciary" in the context of lawyer Prashant Bhushan depositing a fine of ₹1 in a contempt of court case.
During the discussion, streamed live on Asiaville, Justice Lokur addressed the many issues that are plaguing our right to free speech and expression.
On the topic of free speech, Justice Lokur said that there are two opposing points of view on free speech. There's the aspect of citizens saying what they want to say within the constitutional limits, and then there is the aspect of what the state is doing.
"We are seeing that increasingly the state assuming of the view that, 'according to you, you may be speaking within the limits given to you by the constitution, but as the state we think you are transgressing the limits and you're speaking beyond the rights to freedom of speech that have been given to you by the constitution," he said.
"What can the citizen do? The citizen can only continue to speak - they can't take to streets now, can't get violent - they can only speak. But what can the state do? The state can try and curb (to the extent possible, in a manner which is constitutionally permissible) to somehow check that speech if it is offensive. But unfortunately what is happening is that the state is using an iron hand to curb free speech," Justice Lokur lamented.
He pointed pointed out how we are seeing a lot of cases charging people with sedition of late.
"Sedition is a grave offence. During the freedom struggle the likes of Lokmanya Tilak and Mahatma Gandhi were charged with sedition. But today we're finding the common man or woman being charged with sedition upon saying something. and the number of such cases are also increasing," he observed.
According to Justice Lokur, the state using sedition as an iron hand to curb free speech and he said that he sees this as an overreaction to expression of views by people.
"There were 79 sedition cases filed in 2019. In 2020, already 70-80 sedition cases have been filed and I won't be surprised if the number goes beyond 100"
Justice Lokur said another method by which the State curbs free speech is by crackdown on critical opinions by charging as spreading fake news. He cited examples of journalists reporting about COVID-19 cases, lack of ventilators etc. with fake news provisions..
"So someone says something but the state says what you said is not correct and since I am saying it is not correct I'll send you to jail. An expression opinion or speculation are amounting to fake news and people are being charged under sedition. So this is an overreaction on what the state thinks it is," said Justice Lokur.
Speaking on the contempt case against lawyer and activist Prashant Bhushan, Justice Lokur pointed out how in by mireading statements, the state is implicating people.
"I believe that Bhushan's intention was not to SC or scandalise. I believe it was his intention to point out some defects which needed to be looked into," he said.
Citing the example of Dr Kafeel Khan, who was recently released from jail after the Allahabad High Court quashed his charges under the NSA, Justice Lokur said his speech at a protest against the new Citizenship Act was misread. “The Court said his speech was promoting national integration and unity,but the state said that he's trying to break the country," headded.
The morning after activist Umar Khalid was arrested by Delhi Police in connection with the February Delhi riots and was charged under UAPA, Justice Lokur said, "Youngsters and students are speking up for the country, but the state is misreading it and putting them behind bars and charging them under unlawful activity prevention act."
Meanwhile, "Other people who talked of violence and breaking things up - nothing happens to them," the former Supreme Court judge said, possibly hinting at BJP leader Kapil Mishra who had given an incendiary speech just before the Delhi riots broke out.
He also spoke about the misuse of the preventive detention by the state. "It's a very very strict law. It's being used as if when you can't can't find a way to prosecute a person, you put him under preventive detention and the rest can be taken care of later," he mentioned.
He said that it was unfortunate that the people who are being put under preventive detention are not challenging it. "It's very difficult to sustain a pregventive detention order. But it's not being challenged perhaps because of fear maybe," he remarked.
Noting that over 3 crore 40 lakh cases are pending before the courts, Justice Lokur also said that the judiciary needs to prioritize its concerns and there is a need to increase transparency within the judiciary.
Watch the full speech here: