AN archaic law, enacted by the colonial masters to oppress the ‘natives’, should not — in theory — be difficult to jettison from the statute books. Sometimes, however, the masters of old are replaced by autocrats or, at the very least, quasi-autocrats seeking to quell a ‘troublesome’, rights-demanding populace. Thus, when former chairman Senate Raza Rabbani introduced in the upper house on Monday a bill to do away with sedition from the Pakistan Penal Code, it was akin to taking the bull by the horns. For the offence has increasingly become a go-to for state authorities seeking to clamp down on dissenting voices and independent thought. Civil rights activists — including student leaders and academics — have been targeted for demanding constitutional rights and even journalists singled out for publishing information that ran counter to the official narrative. In January, no less than 23 people were booked for sedition after being hauled up at a peaceful protest calling for the release of PTM leader Manzoor Pashteen, who had himself been arrested for the same, among other charges. Hearteningly, there has been civilian pushback. One of the leaders of the above protest filed a petition in the Lahore High Court asking it to declare the section of the PPC dealing with sedition as being ultra vires the Constitution. The Islamabad High Court also took an extremely dim view of peaceful protesters being charged with the crime.

Defined in Section 124A of the PPC, the offence is deemed to have been committed by an individual who 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 incites or attempts to incite dissatisfaction…” towards the government. The vague language of the law facilitates its abuse as a one-size-fits-all weapon to harass and intimidate inconveniently vocal individuals. The very raison d’être of the law is reflected in the names of some of the historical figures charged with sedition or put on trial for the offence. Among these were Maulana Mohammad Ali and Maulana Shaukat Ali — indeed, Gandhi himself — individuals who were the voice of an oppressed people and, therefore, those whom the British Raj wanted to silence. The government’s human rights minister has rightly criticised the sedition law as “an anachronism in an independent, democratic state”. There are other colonial-era black laws, such as contempt of court, which should also be consigned to the dustbin of history.

Published in Dawn, June 10th, 2020

Opinion

De-programming the robot
25 Jul 2021

De-programming the robot

The robot that is programmed to be a predator, to dominate, to hurt, to rape, to kill, will do as he pleases, where he pleases...
A toxic discourse
Updated 25 Jul 2021

A toxic discourse

Politics as it exists now is a catalyst for further divisions...
Cyberespionage
25 Jul 2021

Cyberespionage

Sellers of surveillance tools must be held accountable...
Managing human agency
24 Jul 2021

Managing human agency

Is the private sector able to manage the ‘human agency’ of teachers better than the public sector?...

Editorial

Noor murder case
Updated 25 Jul 2021

Noor murder case

IT would not be an exaggeration to describe Pakistan as no country for women. This truth was underscored yet again...
25 Jul 2021

Rental inflation

HOUSE rent prices soared in June by 6.21pc from 4.2pc a year ago, topping the list of 10 contributors to the urban...
Cyberattack on rights
Updated 24 Jul 2021

Cyberattack on rights

A COLLABORATIVE investigation into a data leak of software sold by the Israeli surveillance company NSO Group has ...
24 Jul 2021

Sleeper cells

THERE was a time not too long ago when militant groups had unleashed a reign of terror in Pakistan, resulting in...
24 Jul 2021

Prisoners’ return

THE families of 62 Pakistani prisoners who had been imprisoned in Saudi Arabia had reason to rejoice this Eid as...