Human Rights Watch, a global human rights body on Friday asked India to stop persecution of peaceful activists, including JNU Students’ Union president Kanhaiya Kumar, with sedition under IPC 124 (a) that may attract three to life-term imprisonment, if convicted.
“The BJP government seems eager to punish peaceful speech but less willing to investigate supporters who commit violence in the name of nationalism,” alleged Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch. “The authorities not only need to find out why BJP supporters were apparently involved in an assault inside a court, but also why the police did nothing,” she said.
She said thee is an urgent need to revoke the draconian colonial period sedition law. Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code prohibits any words, spoken or written, or any signs or visible representation that can cause “hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection,” toward the government.
The Supreme Court has recently limited its usage to those cases where incitement to violence is a necessary element, but police often resort ot using it whenever they find it sensitive. , but police continue to file sedition charges even in cases where this requirement is not met, it said.
Observing that repeated use of the law to silence peaceful speech is a violation of India s international human rights obligations, HRW said the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which India ratified in 1979, prohibits restrictions on freedom of expression on national security grounds unless they are provided by law, strictly construed, and necessary and proportionate to address a legitimate threat. Such laws cannot put the right itself in jeopardy, it said.
“Prime Minister Narendra Modi is promoting Indian democracy around the world as an attractive market, and yet back home, his administration is cracking down on peaceful dissent. Failing to uphold basic human rights is not a good global message,” Ganguly said.
In an earlier statement, the National Human Rights Commission of India has said that the JNUSU leader was subjected to psychological pressure to extract the statement that the Delhi Police commissioner had put on the Twitter. “Kanhaiya Kumar was abused and physically assaulted by some persons dressed as advocates in the Patiala House court premises on February 17. He was even physically assaulted inside the adjoining court room in the presence of police who did not do anything to prevent the assault or apprehend the attackers even though they were identified by Kanhaiya Kumar then and there. The physical assault on Kumar in the court premises appears to be organised and pre-planned,” said the report.
JNUSU President Kanhaiya Kumar, 28, is currently in Tihar Jail facing sedition charges.