‘It was a curse’: Journalists, activists hail annulment of sedition law as victory for free speech

Journalist Hamid Mir says those exploited the law must say 'sorry' to the nation; lawyer Abuzar Niazi thanks LHC for the verdict.
Published March 30, 2023

The Lahore High Court’s striking down of Section 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, which constituted the sedition law, was received with a chorus of praise from activists, journalists, and legal luminaries who commended it as an emphatic triumph for the protection of fundamental liberties and a monumental stride towards enacting legal reforms in the country.

The law, pertaining to the crime of sedition or inciting “disaffection” against the government, had been a subject of controversy for a considerable period of time over its alleged exploitation by those in power to target their political opponents.

Earlier today, the LHC invalidated Section 124-A of the PPC which pertains to the crime of sedition or inciting “disaffection” against the government, terming it inconsistent with the Constitution.

Here, we take a look at the views of experts regarding the revocation of the sedition law.

Lawyer Abuzar Salman Niazi stated that the sedition law had been struck down for being unconstitutional, as it violated Article 19 of the Constitution, which guarantees the right to free speech.

He also paid tribute to the late journalist Arshad Sharif, noting that it was his idea and lifelong dream to see the law repealed.

Senior journalist Hamid Mir stated that those who had previously used the colonial-era law to suppress journalists and political activists in Pakistan “should apologise to the nation”.

He also recalled that the PTI government had opposed a bill to repeal the law in parliament during its tenure.

Journalist Munizae Jahangir praised the LHC for its decision, stating that it is high time for Pakistan to rid itself of undemocratic and draconian colonial laws that were left behind by the British.

She emphasised the importance of abandoning all laws that curtail fundamental rights and embracing a democratic culture in Pakistan.

PTI leader Andleeb Abbas noted that the sedition law had been “a curse for free speech” and expressed hope that a new era of legal reforms would begin soon.

Usama Khilji, an activist, expressed his appreciation for the Lahore High Court’s decision, describing it as “excellent, much-needed, and long overdue”.

“Abuse of the colonial era sedition law was undemocratic & undermined fundamental right to freedom of speech. Glad it’s been done away with as the establishment used it to persecute democratic criticism,” the activist said in a tweet.

Javeria Siddique, the wife of the late journalist Arshad Sharif, expressed her opinion that the sedition law in Pakistan was being misused as a tool to harass journalists and activists.

She pointed out that her husband had been falsely accused in 16 cases under Section 124-A of the law, which deals with sedition, before his untimely death last year.

Ammar Rashid, a columnist and activist, described the annulment of the colonial sedition law as a “huge victory for dissent”.

“We also challenged 124A after our arrests for sedition in Jan/Feb 20 but IHC didn’t entertain it. A moment to reflect for those who think the current anti-establishment moment means nothing.”

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) welcomed the decision to invalidate Section 124-A of the PPC, which criminalises criticism of the federal and provincial governments as “inciting disaffection” or sedition.

The Asma Jahangir Legal Aid Cell said it was a laudable move to restore citizens’ freedom of expression but cautioned that “this victory must not be short-lived”.