The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Journalists (India) in condemning the circular issued by the Maharastra government to the state police regarding state critics. The IFJ calls on the government to immediately repeal the order which hinder freedom of expression.
On August 27, the state government of Maharastra, in western India, issued a circular, which gave the state police the power to take action against those who have a critical view or stand against the state or central governments’ policies and activities. The circular states that the sedition clause from the Indian Penal Code can be invoked against “whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs or by visible representation, is critical of politicians, elected representatives belonging to the government.” However, the section will not be invoked against those trying to bring a change in the government through legal means without hatred and contempt.
The circular was issued following an order of the High Court of Bombay which requested that the Home Department issues guidelines to the police clarifying the pre-conditions for invoking sedition charges. The order came after the dismissal of the case of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi who was charged for sedition for his cartoons and arrested in 2012.
The NUJI said: “The particular order of Maharashtra Government allows the State Police to invoke the serious charge, including treason and sedition under section 124(A) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against any one with dissent voice.”
The NUJI has described the order as highly objectionable and said it would directly affect the Freedom of the Press. In a statement NUJI Secretary General Prasanna Mohanty termed the circular unconstitutional and an attempt to gag the rights of people and the press.
The IFJ said: “The IFJ condemns the Maharastra government’s circular, which works to restrict freedom of expression. The circular can also lead to anyone been charged with sedition due to the ambiguity of the definitions and terminology use.”
“The circular, supposedly issued to clarify sedition charges, makes it more ambiguous and is contrary to the spirit of the Bombay High Court’s decision on cartoonist Aseem Trivedi’s case. The IFJ urge the Maharastra government to immediately annul the circular to ensure people’s right to opinion and expression and media’s right to question government agencies and officials.”
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