New York: The Indian
government should drop sedition cases against rights activists Binayak Sen, Arundhati Roy, and others, the Human Rights Watch
The international body has also urged the Indian parliament to
repeal the colonial-era sedition law, as it has been used by the
authorities to "silence peaceful political dissent".
The authorities have pursued sedition charges against peaceful
activists, despite a Supreme Court ruling that prosecution under
the sedition law requires incitement to violence, which was not
alleged in either case, the group said in a statement.
"Using sedition laws to silence peaceful criticism is the hallmark
of an oppressive government," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia
director at Human Rights Watch. "The Supreme Court has long
recognised that the sedition law cannot be used for this purpose,
and India's parliament should amend or repeal the law to reflect
Sen, who is also a medical doctor, was convicted Dec 24, 2010 of
sedition and conspiracy under the Chhattisgarh Special Public
Safety Act, 2005, and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act,
He was immediately taken into custody, having been out on bail
since May 2009. Police had arrested Sen May 14, 2007, accusing him
of carrying messages from the jailed Maoist ideologue Narayan
Sanyal. Sen visited Sanyal under the supervision of jail
authorities to provide medical and legal aid.
In New Delhi, a court directed the police in November 2010 to
investigate sedition charges against the writer and columnist
Arundhati Roy. The allegations against Roy and five others stemmed
from speeches they made Oct 21 in New Delhi supporting secession
of Jammu and Kashmir.
"Considering that India wants the world to celebrate its
independent judiciary and active civil society, these actions are
both bizarre and regressive," Ganguly said. "Local authorities
don't need to wait for parliament to pass any changes in the
sedition law to act lawfully, but instead should just stop
pursuing cases against their critics."
"Peacefully speaking out against human rights violations is at the
heart of free speech, not sedition," Ganguly said, adding, "The
repeated misuse of the sedition law should be brought to a stop."