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Lahore High Court invalidates Pakistan’s sedition law, calls it inconsistent with its Constitution

The High Court of Lahore on Thursday invalidated Section 124A of the Pakistan Penal Code, commonly known as sedition law, terming it as being inconsistent with the Constitution of Pakistan.

The order was passed by the Single-Judge Bench of Justice Shahid Karim on a batch of petitions seeking to annul Section 124A of the PPC on the ground that the law was being used by the governments in power against their rivals, Pakistan daily The Dawn reported.

The petitions had contended that the Constitution of Pakistan gave every citizen the right to freedom of expression, however, the sedition law, a provision of colonial times, punished speeches against the governments with up to imprisonment for life.

One of the petitions filed by a citizen urged the court to declare Section 124-A of 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.

As per Section 124-A of PPC, “Sedition: Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, 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.”

Explanation 1: The expression disaffection includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.

Explanation 2: Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

Explanation 3: Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.

Earlier in 2019, Justice Karim had convicted former Pakistan dictator General Pervez Musharraf and sentenced him to death in absentia in the high treason case for subverting the Constitution in 2007.

Section 124A of the Pakistan Penal Code is identical to Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which was put on hold by the Supreme Court on May 11, 2022.

The Bench of then Chief Justice of India N.V. Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli had directed all state governments, Union Territories and the Union of India not to file any FIR, continue investigation, or take any coercive steps under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, till it was reconsidered by the Central government.

The Supreme Court of India had further granted liberty to the Centre to issue directives proposed and placed before the Apex Court, which could be issued to the states to prevent the misuse of section 124A. 

Supreme Court had urged the Centre and the State governments to refrain from registering any FIRs under the said provision while it was under re-consideration.

A bench comprising the Chief Justice of India NV Ramana, Justice Surya Kant and Justice Hima Kohli held that all pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to charges framed under Section124 A be kept in abeyance.

Last year, the Islamabad High Court dismissed a similar petition filed by the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf, a political party of Pakistan, as being “non-maintainable”.

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