LHC snubs law that criminalised criticism of govts

From Abid Usman

LAHORE: The Lahore High Court on Thursday invalidated Section 124-A of the Pakistan Penal Code, commonly known as sedition law, which pertains to the crime of sedition or inciting “disaffection” against the government, terming it incon-sistent with the Constitution.
The law states: “Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible rep-resentation, 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.”
Justice Shahid Karim of the LHC pronounced the verdict in response to identical petitions seeking to annul the sedition law. A written ruling has yet to be released.
One of the petitions, filed by a citizen Haroon Farooq, which was identical to all other pleas urged the court to declare Section 124-A of the PPC as “ultra-vires in terms of Article 8 of the Constitution being inconsistent with and in derogation of fundamental rights provided under Article 9, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 19, 19A of the Constitution”.
Sedition law ‘recklessly used in Pakistan’, plea says
According to the petition, the law has been recklessly used in Pakistan as a tool of exploita-tion to curb the right to free speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 of the Con-stitution.
“Section 124-A Pakistan Penal Code 1860 is an illegitimate limitation and restriction on the legitimate, legal and lawful exercise of the constitutionally guaranteed right of free speech and expression (in particular) and various other constitutional freedoms (in general),” it added.
Over the past few years, the petition argued, various politicians, journalists and activists had been booked under Section 124-A of the PPC. “Every passing day, the intensity of reg-istration of FIRs under this section is snowballing while the people of Pakistan have suf-fered a lot, as almost every criticism of government or state institutions has been treated as an offence under Section 124-A by law enforcement agencies.”
The petition said the law was serving as “a notorious tool for the suppression of dissent, free speech and criticism in free and independent Pakistan”.
It quoted the case of Shahbaz Gill, saying he was being prosecuted under sedition charges. Likewise, the plea mentioned other lawmakers including Mohsin Dawar, Ali Wazir from Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), which it said, were also facing prosecution on basis of sedition charges.
“Moreover, various prominent journalists, namely, Arshad Sharif, Khawar Ghumman, Adeel Raja and Sadaf Abdul Jabbar are facing prosecution on the basis of sedition charges. Javed Hashmi was also sentenced to 23 years in prison on sedition charges,” the plea not-ed.
It went on to say that almost all individuals who had been booked, investigated, and prose-cuted on sedition charges under Section 124-A were acquitted “since most of these cases were politically motivated and based on vague, ambiguous, bald, and uncertain allegations, and subjective understanding, interpretation, and enforcement of Sedition law by law en-forcement agencies.”
A similar petition was filed by the PTI in September last year with the Islamabad High Court seeking annulment of the sedition law, however, it was dismissed for being “non-maintainable”.