The court cautioned the State against indiscriminate use of sedition and hate speech law

On October 30, 2020 the Punjab and Haryana High Court granted bail to a person booked for “sedition and inciting communal hatred” stating that, “In a democracy every citizen has a right to voice his/her opinion freely and criticize the functioning of the Government. However, the same should be done in a decent manner and un-parliamentary language should not be adopted.” The order was passed in the case, Jasbir Singh v. State of Punjab (Crl. Misc. No. 19376 of 2020). Mr. Jasraj Singh appeared for the petitioner and Additional Advocate General, Mr. Sidakmeet Singh appeared for the State.

The bench consisting of Justice Sudhir Mishra also noted that “the State needs to be more tolerant and circumspect while invoking laws pertaining to sedition and religious disaffection. Current tendency to the contrary has been frowned upon by the Supreme Court of India.”

Matter before the court

The petition was filed by one, Jasbir Singh who had been incarcerated for six months and 14 days on charges of sedition and inciting communal hatred and booked under the relevant sections of the Indian Penal Code. Displeased with the imposition of the lockdown and mismanagement by the Government of India as well as the Punjab Government, the petitioner went live on Facebook and criticised the authorities.

The allegations in the FIR suggested that he made statements “against the unity and integrity of the Nation” and were also aimed at causing “communal disaffection.”

The court accepted that, “intemperate and abusive language has been used against high officials of the Governments as well as against the elected representatives” but also noted that, “the same does not amount to exciting disaffection towards the Government established by law or to excite hatred against it. It also does not amount to inciting religious disaffection or disruption of communal harmony. It is an expression of dissatisfaction with the functioning of the Government and criticism of its policies.”

The observations came in the backdrop of a bail application filed by one Jasbir who has been in jail for six months after being accused of making statements against the unity and integrity of the nation and aiming at causing communal disaffection.

Granting bail to the accused, Justice Sudhir Mittal said on October 30 that the accused was unhappy with the lockdown imposed due to the corona virus and the way the pandemic was being handled by the Government of India as well as the Punjab Government. He had criticized the functioning of the said Governments.

Intemperate and abusive language had definitely been used against high officials of the Governments as well as against the elected representatives, but the same does not amount to inciting disaffection towards the Government established by law or to inciting hatred against it, the judge said.

It does not even amount to inciting religious disaffection or disruption of communal harmony, the judge added. It is an expression of dissatisfaction with the functioning of the Government and criticism of its policies.

“In a democracy, every citizen has a right to voice his/her opinion freely and criticize the functioning of the Government. However, the same should be done in a decent manner and unparliamentary language should not be adopted”, the Court said.

Finally, the petitioner was granted bail as the court recognized that he had been in jail for the past sixmonths and that the trial was not likely to be concluded at an early date.

Recently, Justice Ravindra Maithani of Uttarakhand granted bail to journalist Umesh Kumar Sharma and opining that, “Criticizing the government can never be sedition. Unless the public functionaries are criticized, democracy cannot be strengthened. In democracy dissent is always respected and considered, if it is suppressed under sedition laws perhaps, it would be an attempt to make the democracy weak.”

The Punjab and Haryana HC order may be read here:

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