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

Press and power
25 Sep 2021

Press and power

None used the press so brazenly as the Modi government.
Once upon a Taliban
Updated 25 Sep 2021

Once upon a Taliban

Something, somewhere is terribly wrong with how this story is unfolding.
Foundation of healthcare
24 Sep 2021

Foundation of healthcare

Primary healthcare is as much for healthy individuals as it for those suffering from ill health.

Editorial

25 Sep 2021

NAB controversy

THE completion of the four-year term of NAB chairman Javed Iqbal early next month has afforded Prime Minister Imran...
Cabinet ‘inclusivity’
Updated 25 Sep 2021

Cabinet ‘inclusivity’

Voices are being raised questioning when the much-hyped inclusivity the group had talked about will materialise.
25 Sep 2021

Quorum malady

LACK of quorum has become a chronic problem for the present National Assembly which is in the process of becoming a...
24 Sep 2021

Costs of growth

IS Pakistan’s growth party over? Not yet. But both the State Bank and government are now cutting down on the items...
Smear campaign
Updated 24 Sep 2021

Smear campaign

It is commendable that the government has taken the matter as seriously as it has, and delved deep into cyber investigations.
24 Sep 2021

Rising dengue cases

THE dengue monster is once again rearing its head in different cities of Punjab. More than 820 cases have surfaced ...