Justice Madan B Lokur, former Supreme Court judge, said on Monday that the State is using an iron hand to curb free speech, as evidenced by the rising number of sedition cases. He noted that already, 70 cases of sedition have been filed this year.
Lokur was speaking at a discussion organised by Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) and Swaraj Abhiyan ahead of lawyer Prashant Bhushan submitting his token Re. 1 fine in a contempt case. In his speech, he detailed the many ways in which the government is coming down heavily on dissent and criticism.
Another way by which the state is curbing free speech is coming down forcefully on what is being termed “fake news”, Lokur said.
“An expression of opinion, speculation that a possibility may happen, is being viewed as fake news,” he was quoted as saying by Bar and Bench. “That also is an overreaction to the expression of an opinion, which may or may not be correct, by the State which views the opinion as incorrect.”
The third area where free speech is being curtailed is by misreading a statement, Lokur said, adding that Bhushan’s case was an example of this. “It was not his intention, I believe, to denigrate or scandalise the Supreme Court. I believe his intention was to point out some defects which needed to be looked into.”
The next issue, he said, was the use of preventive detention. “The unfortunate part is that people put under preventive detention are not challenging it. It’s very difficult to sustain an order of preventive detention, but it is not being challenged. Perhaps because of fear,” Lokur said.
Ahead of submitting the Re 1 fine imposed on him by the apex court in a contempt case, Bhushan said that submitting the fine does not mean he accepts the court’s judgment. The lawyer said a a review petition will be filed on Monday.
On August 31, the apex court had imposed a fine of Re 1 on Bhushan, who was convicted for criminal contempt for his two tweets.
Bhushan also questioned the action against former Jawaharlal Nehru University student leader Umar Khalid, who was arrested on Sunday under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA).