IHC dismisses PTI plea seeking annulment of sedition law

Published September 24, 2022
Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah — Photo via IHC website/File
Islamabad High Court (IHC) Chief Justice Athar Minallah — Photo via IHC website/File

The Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Saturday dismissed a petition filed by PTI leader Shireen Mazari seeking the annulment of Section 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, which pertains to sedition.

The law states: “Whoever 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 excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Federal or Provincial Government established by law shall be punished with imprisonment for life to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.”

Mazari’s petition was, however, dismissed by IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah for being non-maintainable in a short order. A detailed verdict will be issued later.

The petition, a copy of which is available with Dawn.com, named the Federation of Pakistan, Islamabad chief commissioner, and the inspector generals and governments of all provinces including the capital city.

It highlighted that since the establishment of Pakistan, political leadership, journalists, activists, and free thinkers had faced sedition charges under Section 124-A Pakistan Penal Code 1860.

“Presently, Shahbaz Gill (senior leader of Petitioner’s Political Party) is being prosecuted under sedition charges. Lawmakers, Mohsin Dawar, Ali Wazir and MNAs from Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM) are also facing prosecution on basis of sedition charges.”

Mazari said that the law had been used as an effective means to curb the freedom of speech. “It may kindly be noted that the under the impugned Section 124-A,1860, also violates Article 19 of the Constitution of Pakistan.”

Article 19 grants the right to free speech and expression and allows the legislature to impose reasonable restrictions on the fundamental right to free speech.

The petition stated that Pakistan was a signatory of Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) since 1948 and in 2010, and was hence responsible for upholding the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) which set forth internationally recognized standards for the protection of freedom of expression under Article 19 of both the covenants.

“However, the abuse of the Law of Sedition while persecuting its citizen and arbitrarily slapping charges upon them are inconsistent with or in derogation of Pakistan’s international commitments,” it said.

Furthermore, it said that when sedition was introduced, Pakistan was still a part of the British Empire and was ruled by British monarchs. “Subsequent to the attainment of independence, however, all authority is now derived from the Constitution of Pakistan.

“The state now consists of the representatives of the people that are elected by them through democratic elections. This has made a law of the nature of sedition obsolete and unnecessary,” the petition added.

The PTI leader also went on to give examples of the several countries — USA, New Zealand, Australia, Ghana, South Korea, Indonesia, Scotland, and Singapore — that have repealed the sedition laws.

Even the British had annulled the law, she highlighted.

Subsequently, the petition prayed that Sections 124-A of Pakistan Penal Code, 1860, should be declared as “ultra-vires in terms of Article 8 of the Constitution being inconsistent with and in derogation of fundamental rights provided under Article 9, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 19, 19A of the Constitution”.

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