PPP Senator and Chair of the Senate Committee on Human Rights, Mustafa Nawaz Khokhar, expressed the need to repeal Section 124-A (Sedition) of the Pakistan Penal Code. And today, Vice-Chair of the Pakistan Bar Council Abid Saqi submitted a petition in the Lahore High Court to repeal 124-A, declaring it repugnant to the Constitution of Pakistan.
“There is a need to move amendments in the PPC,” Khokhar said. “124-A shouldn’t even be in our books since it’s a colonial-era law.
What are the Sedition Laws?
124-A, Sedition, is a colonial era law which penalizes any speech or written word that stirs “disaffection towards the State” with a maximum penalty of life imprisonment and a minimum of 3 years with a fine. The broadness of the term “disaffection towards the state” is one of the main grounds on which Khokhar is poised to challenge sedition laws in the Senate.
The law was introduced by the British Raj 1870 and was used to stamp out freedom movements by levelling accusations of rebellion against movement leaders. Some well-known freedom fighters targeted under this law were Mahatma Gandhi, Maulana Mohammad Ali Johar and Maulana Shaukat Ali.
Invoking an Obsolete Law
Although sedition laws were repealed in Britain in 2009, they are still not just part of the penal code in India and Pakistan, but are also regularly invoked. Sedition charges have been levied against various political figures throughout Pakistan’s history, more recently against former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Shahid Khaqan Abbasi.
To date, no single political party has made a move to repeal sedition laws.
Recently, PTM Chair Manzoor Pashteen including 23 of his supporters (workers from the PTM and AWP) were booked under Section 124-A for conducting a peaceful protest. And even before that, around 300 students were charged for sedition during the Student Solidarity March in November.
These recent instances of the “abuse” of 124-A has prompted leading lawyers and civil society to finally demand the dissolution of this law.
Lawyers and Rights Activists Band Together
In a speech during Asma Jahangir’s 2nd death anniversary memorial event on 7th February, Abid Saqi stated that 124-A violates Article 19 (Freedom of Speech) of the Constitution.
“It’s a 300 year old law that is being implemented in-spite of the existence of our Constitution to prosecute people, to drag them into trials,” he exclaimed. “How can you prosecute a citizen of this country under Section 124-A when there is Article 19 of the Constitution? [Sedition] is repugnant to the Constitution!”
President of the Supreme Court Bar Association Qalbe Hassan agreed with Saqi’s stance and stated his intention of conducting a lawyers’ convention regarding the matter.
“These laws are being used to control and curb students, movements and especially journalists,” said Hassan.
Rights activists and leading lawyers also expressed their displeasure with the abuse of sedition laws and called for their dissolution.
“This is an abuse of law,” stated rights activist I. A. Rehman, a contemporary of Asma Jahangir. “[Sedition] is being used to intimidate and threaten people from voicing their grievances. But people are continuing their struggle for their rights.”
“The vires of the law are also questionable,” explained former Vice-Chair of the PBC Azam Nazir Tarar. “As a further course of action, we also need to challenge these vires.”
“124-A and similar laws need to be repealed,” said former Vice-Chair of the PBC Ahsan Bhoon. “It shouldn’t be used against our citizens, our children.”
“There was a time when blasphemy cases hit their peak, now they seem to be slowing down ever since Asiya Bibi’s lawyer, Mr. Saiful Malook created a stumbling block [in the abuse of blasphemy laws],” said Saqi. “Now is the era of the abuse of sedition laws.”