Sedition case against PML-N leadership sparks lively debate

Updated 07 Oct 2020

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Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif virtually addresses a meeting of the PML-N's Central Executive Committee. — Photo courtesy Maryam Nawaz Twitter/File
Former prime minister Nawaz Sharif virtually addresses a meeting of the PML-N's Central Executive Committee. — Photo courtesy Maryam Nawaz Twitter/File

ISLAMABAD: The filing of a sedition case against a number of Pakistan Muslim League (PML-N) leaders, including the party’s supreme leader and former prime minister Nawaz Sharif, has sparked a lively debate on whether a common citizen can lodge such a case which entails serious consequences.

Senior lawyers are of the opinion that a sedition case cannot be filed by a common citizen.

Ali Ahmed Kurd, one of the senior lawyers who spearheaded the epic 2007 lawyers’ movement, while talking to reporters here on Tuesday, said that an individual could not lodge a sedition case since this was a very serious matter.

When asked to comment on the debate, Pakistan Bar Council vice chairman Abid Saqi recalled that under Section 196 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), a complaint could only be filed by the federal or provincial governments or an authority/officer empowered by either of the two governments.

Section 196 deals with the prosecution for offences against the state and explains that no court should take cognisance of any offence punishable under Chapter VI or IXA of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) unless upon complaint made by order of, or under authority from, the central or the provincial governments concerned, or some officer empowered in this behalf by either of the two governments.

Senior lawyers say common citizen cannot file sedition case

On the complaint of a citizen, Badar Rasheed, the Shahdara police station in Lahore had registered an FIR against Nawaz Sharif and several other PML-N leaders under Section 10 (cyber terrorism) of the Pakistan Electronic Crimes Act 2016 and Sections 120-A (definition of criminal conspiracy), 120-B (criminal conspiracy), 121-A (conspiracy to wage war against Pakistan), 123-A (condemning the creation of the country and advocating the abolishment of its sovereignty), 124-A (sedition) and 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups) of the PPC.

The complainant alleged that Nawaz Sharif, who had been convicted on corruption charges by Pakistani courts, delivered hateful speeches against the state and its institutions while addressing a multiparty conference (MPC) on Sept 20 and his party’s Central Working Committee (CWC) and Central Executive Committee (CEC) on Oct 1.

The FIR also included other PML-N senior leaders who attended the meetings and endorsed Mr Sharif’s speeches by raising their hands. They included Prime Minister of Azad Jammu and Kashmir Raja Farooq Haider, former leader of the house in the Senate Raja Zafarul Haq, former speaker of the National Assembly Sardar Ayaz Sadiq, former prime minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, former federal minister Khurram Dastgir, former interior minister Ahsan Iqbal, former defence minister Khawaja Asif, former information minister Pervaiz Rashid, former law minister Rana Sanaullah and former railways minister Khawaja Saad Rafique.

In reply to a question about the fate of the case, Abid Saqi said the PML-N leaders should approach the courts and get the FIR quashed. He recalled that he had challenged the registration of similar cases against the participants of the Students Solidarity March in November last year in Lahore who were demanding restoration of students union as well as better educational facilities in the country.

Mr Saqi, who represented Ammar Ali Jan, a student rights activist, recalled that the Lahore High Court had in February issued notices to the federal and provincial governments on a petition seeking a declaration that Section 124-A of the PPC was in contradiction with the fundamental rights of citizens enshrined in the Constitution.

The petition had questioned the legality of the FIR lodged against the students under Section 124-A of the PPC for holding the march.

Mr Saqi recalled that the offence of sedition was originally drafted in 1837 by Thomas Macaulay, a British historian-politician, but was omitted when the Indian Penal Code was enacted in 1860. He suggested that the PML-N leaders should approach the courts under Section 561-A of the CrPC which was usually invoked to prevent the abuse of process of the court and to secure the ends of justice.

A senior counsel requesting anonymity recalled that the LHC had, while acquitting former Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf president Makhdoom Javed Hashmi of the sedition charges, held that the offence of sedition under Section 124-A of the PPC was non-cognisable and there was no concept of registration of a case under this offence by police and cognisance thereof could only be taken on a complaint instituted by the federal government.

Javed Hashmi, then parliamentary leader of the PML-N, was sentenced to a consolidated jail term of 23 years on April 12, 2004, on sedition charges by Islamabad District and Sessions Judge Chaudhry Asad Raza. The sentence was to run concurrently requiring the convict to serve seven years in jail.

In February this year, former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani had moved before the upper house of parliament a private member bill seeking amendment to Section 124(A) of the PPC to do away with the colonial structure of government since this section had been introduced in the law for natives to keep them under control to check any rebellion against the colonial masters.

Published in Dawn, October 7th, 2020