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September 17, 2020

Omission of sedition provision: Senate panel sitting on bill for deletion of Section 124-A

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September 17, 2020

ISLAMABAD: A Senate panel is sitting on a bill that seeks the deletion of Section 124A (sedition) of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for being irrelevant in an independent, sovereign Pakistan.

The bill was moved by former Senate Chairman and prominent Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) leader Raza Rabbani in February this year. It was referred to the Standing Committee on Interior in June after a voice vote, despite opposition from the minister concerned.

“Section 124-A is a part of the inherited colonial structure of governance that continues in Pakistan. It was for the natives who had to be kept under control lest they incited rebellion against the masters,” Rabbani told The News while referring to its statement of objects and reasons.

He said today the relationship between the rulers and the ruled is no longer one of master and subject. “Respect for the government can’t be regulated. It arises from the start of respect for individual freedom and the ability to govern.”

Section 124-A states that “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 provision explains that disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity. Comments expressing disapprobation of government measures with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under it. Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

Rabbani said he has explained to government MPs in the standing committee that sections 121 to 128 (excluding 124A) of the PPC cover the offences against the State, and what has been provided in Section 124-A doesn’t even fall in the definition of the State. “It is being misused.”

He said that the provision has been used against the protest movements of students, labourers and intellectuals against certain government policies in Punjab and Sindh. The latest example is its invocation against a journalist and former chairman of the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra), he said.

Rabbani said that he would write a letter to the Senate committee chairman if the bill was not taken up at an early date. Last time, he said, the panel chief had deferred it on the grounds that the provincial home secretaries would be called and asked to give their inputs on the question of removal of Section 124-A.

He said the section’s ambit was so wide and open that anything under the sun could be brought under it. The courts, he added, had given several judgments in which they had termed the section extremely vague.

Senior politician Makhdoom Javed Hashmi is among the high-profile figures who had faced a sedition charge under Section 124-A.

In October 2003 during Pervez Musharraf’s regime, Hashmi was arrested after he addressed a presser where he distributed an unsigned purported fictitious letter. He remained in jail for nearly four years after which he was released on bail.

In 2004, the district and sessions court of Islamabad sentenced Hashmi, who was then the chief of the multi-party opposition grouping the Alliance for the Restoration of Democracy (ARD), to 23 years on seven counts, with a maximum of seven years on each one of them.

Finally, in August 2007, the Supreme Court ordered the immediate release of Hashmi. The case came to an end when in 2010, the Lahore High Court (LHC) acquitted him of the sedition charge stating that no concrete evidence or witnesses were available to suggest his involvement in any act of treason.