Stop charging Kanhaiya with sedition: HRW

Washington, Feb 19: A top American human rights body today asked Indian authorities to stop charging peaceful activists, including JNU students' union leader Kanhaiya Kumar, with sedition.

The Indian authorities should immediately drop all charges that violate the right to free expression, and fully investigate the attack inside the court and fairly prosecute those responsible, including any ruling party supporters, Human Rights Watch said.

Kanhaiya Kumar

"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 at 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.

HRW said the case has highlighted the urgent need for India's parliament to repeal the country’s 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 imposed limits on the use of the sedition law, making incitement to violence a necessary element, 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.


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