LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Thursday struck down the offence of sedition under Section 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for being repugnant to the fundamental rights of the citizens protected in the Constitution.

Announcing a short order, Justice Shahid Karim allowed a few public interest petitions challenging the colonial-era law used to curb dissenting voices.

A part of chapter VI of “Offences against the State” in the PPC of 1860, the Section 124-A reads as “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.”

The lead petition of Haroon Farooq, filed through Barrister Abuzar Salman Niazi, stated that the impugned law of sedition originally was drafted in 1837 by Thomas Macaulay, the British historian-politician, but was omitted when the Indian Penal Code was enacted in 1860.

LHC declares the British-era law to be repugnant to fundamental rights of citizens

Thereafter, the petition said, in 1870 the same was inserted in the Indian Penal Code, 1860, through the Penal Code (Amendment) Act, 1870, by James Stephen when the colonial masters felt the need to perpetuate their imperial rule. The petition pointed out that it was one of the many draconian laws brought into force to suppress any voices of dissent at that time.

It submitted that the law of sedition as contained in section 124-A PPC was a residue and relic of oppressive colonial legacy which had been introduced to rule the subjects not citizens.

Therefore, it said, the provisions of the impugned section were repugnant to the constitutional guarantees including freedom of speech, movement, assembly, association and of expression provided under Articles 15, 16, 17 and 19 of the Constitution.

The petition argued that the word “government” as exists in the section 124-A, PPC, was surely and squarely defeated the freedoms which were created by the Constitution.

It pleaded that the impugned section be declared void and ultra vires being inconsistent with and in derogation of fundamental rights in view of the mandate of Article 8 of the Constitution.

The decision was welcomed by people from all walks of life. 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”.

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.

Published in Dawn, March 31st, 2023

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