While lawyers representing those accused of sedition celebrated what they called a “historic” order from the Supreme Court on sedition, the road ahead for many of them still in jail might not be as easy with most of the cases also containing charges under other provisions of the law that will prevent them from being released based on May 11 order.
Almost all lawyers The Hindu spoke to agreed that the order would open doors for the accused in jails but some also highlighted that the order might lead to problems for certain accused who were charged under other Sections of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) like Section 153A and 505 and the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA) alongside sedition.
While cases like that of Member of Parliament Navneet Rana and Member of the Legislative Assembly Ravi Rana and more recently that of television news anchor Aman Chopra have shown that they were able to get relief from the courts much sooner than others, many like activists Umar Khalid, JNU student leader Sharjeel Imam, journalist Siddique Kappan, and others have a difficult road ahead with other charges added to the sedition offence against them.
Advocate Madhuvan Dutt Chathurvedi, who is representing members of the Campus Front of India in the Hathras-related sedition case in which Mr. Kappan is also an accused and the Kashmiri students who were charged with sedition in Agra, Uttar Pradesh, for supporting Pakistan in a cricket match, said that the order might create a hindrance for many sedition accused in jails.
Mr. Chathurvedi spoke of the nature of how the sedition law was used by the Police. "Many sedition cases where accused are currently in jails are where the Police usually slap other charges under laws like UAPA, which will only prevent them from getting out given that the SC has allowed proceedings to continue in other offences."
For instance, the "main conspiracy case" in the North-East Delhi riots of February 2020 and the case where Mr. Kappan and seven others stand accused have UAPA charges as well as several other grave offences under the IPC _ meaning a relief might be farther away for them than for other people accused only under sedition.
The Uttar Pradesh-based lawyer added that the Supreme Court order clearly spelt out that all pending trials, appeals and proceedings with respect to "charges framed" under Section 124A should be kept in abeyance. "This raises a question as to what happens to those who have been arrested for sedition but against whom charges have not yet been framed, like in the Hathras case," he said.
Mr. Chathurvedi said, "Trial courts may be confused as to the SC order and say that this would not apply to those accused against whom charges are not yet framed."
Advocate Mehmood Pracha, who is representing over 10 accused in separate sedition cases, agreed that the other charges added alongside it might be a challenge but also said, “The crux of laws like UAPA emanates from Section 124A of harming the State,” adding that this could be used to counter some of the cases. “So, the only way UAPA should remain is qua the violence or armed action against the State,” he said.
What Mr. Chathurvedi did concede to was that the order might make it easier for the accused to secure bail in sedition cases. "It is likely that in light of the SC order, bail applications might be looked at more leniently and the gravity attached to the sedition offence may reduce."
Advocate Tanvir Ahmed Mir agreed and said that the order would go a long way in helping the "528 accused in jails across the country right now for sedition". Mr. Mir, who is representing Mr. Imam in multiple sedition cases, said that he was already preparing to file fresh petitions in the Delhi High Court seeking interim bail for his client in light of Wednesday's Supreme Court's directions.
Advocate Vrinda Grover, representing one of the petitioners in the Supreme Court challenge sedition, also hailed the directions and said, "The effect of this order is far-reaching as it places the sedition penal provision in abeyance. It will not only have a direct impact on all pending cases where people are either being investigated or charged or prosecuted under Section 124A of the IPC, the court has also directed that no new FIRs should be registered for the crime of sedition. Further, in all cases where the accused persons have been charged with sedition, the proceedings have been directed to be kept in abeyance."