The report also mentions how the government uses these laws as a scare tactic to discourage dissent

Sedition and defamation Govts in India criminalise peaceful expression says HRW report
news Freedom of Expression Wednesday, May 25, 2016 - 18:48

According to a report released by the Human Rights Watch, India, governments in India, both at the centre and in the states, routinely use "vaguely worded laws" to curb dissenting voices.

Titled “Stifling Dissent: The Criminalization of Peaceful Expression in India”, the report pans 108 pages and talks about how vested interests take precedence over free expression and how broad laws are used to penalize and harass dissenters.

“Too often, it (the government) has instead given in to interest groups who, for politically motivated reasons, say they are offended by a certain book, film, or work of art,” says the report.

A summary of the report mentions some problematic and oft-misused colonial-era laws that clamp down on the free speech that the constitution guarantees – sedition, defamation, Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) being few of them.

The report mentions cases like that of Kanhaiya Kumar, Jayalalithaa’s numerous defamation cases against journalists and rival politicians and the detention of five students in May 2014 for sharing a message about Prime Minister Narendra Modi on WhatsApp, to show how broad and ambiguous laws are used by the authorities to arm-twist dissenters.

“India’s abusive laws are the hallmark of a repressive society, not a vibrant democracy,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Putting critics in prison or even forcing them to defend themselves in lengthy and expensive court proceedings undermines the government’s efforts to present India as a modern country in the Internet age committed to free speech and the rule of law,” she added in another article on the HRW website.

The report also mentions how using these laws to put dissenters into line works as a scare tactic.

“Fear of such actions, combined with uncertainty as to how the statutes will be applied, leads to a chilling environment and self-censorship,” it explains.

Among the recommendations that the HRW makes are for a comprehensive time table for these laws curbing peaceful expression be repealed, to do away with pending cases and investigations where “underlying behavior involved peaceful expression or assembly” and to senstitise police and judges to deal with cases against free speech when filed on inappropriate grounds.

The report also asks the government to "establish policies and procedures to counter hate speech through affirmative or non-punitive measures, tailoring the government’s response to the specific context."

In its recommendations to the Parliament, the report says that section 124A, 298, 295A, 153A, 505(1)(c) and 505(2) of the Indian Penal Code should be repealed and replaced with a single hate speech law that criminalizes “advocacy of national, racial or religious hatred that constitutes incitement to discrimination, hostility or violence”.

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