Supreme court to have relook at hate speech law

Subramanian Swamy’s case goes to bigger bench but gets bail

GN Bureau | July 2, 2015


#supreme court   #subramanian swamy   #bjp  

While declining to stay case against BJP leader Subramanian Swamy the supreme court on Thursday agreed to examine the constitutional validity of penal provision for hate speeches.

According to the law, hate speech is any speech, gesture or conduct, writing or display which is forbidden because it may incite violence or hurt religious feeling or promote enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc. Section 153 deals with provoking people with the intent to cause riot and Section 153A talks about promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc. Section 295 makes injuring or defiling places of worship with the intent to insult the religion of any class an offence. Section 298 covers cases of hurting religious sentiments deliberately.

A bench of Justices Ranjan Gogoi and M Y Eqbal said that it will not go into the merit of individual cases and would decide larger issue of constitutional validity of hate speech laws. Accordingly, it has sought response from the Centre for scrapping the law.

After challenging the validity of the criminal defamation law, Swamy has challenged before the supreme court various provisions of the Indian Penal Code dealing with offences of 'hate speech', saying they were violative of the fundamental right to freedom of speech.

Swamy contended in his plea that Sections 153, 153A,153B, 295, 295A, 298 and 505 of the IPC in respect of so-called "hate speech" were used to penalize people for expressing their views even within the bounds of reasonable restrictions and they should be set aside.

"All these sections do not have any safeguards within which a person can publicize his analysis of various nuanced truths of interaction between groups which differ on the basis of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, caste or community," Swamy said in his petition.

He contended that under the present law, a person couldn't attempt to initiate a public debate to modify people's perception as the person was "chilled or gagged" under the present law.

"By these laws, therefore, not only are such persons harassed by a criminal prosecution which could continue unendingly, but also on that pretext, a vibrant and vigorous public discourse essential in a democracy is gagged. There is also thereby violation of the citizens' fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression," he said.

Swamy also urged the court to stay criminal proceedings initiated against him in Delhi, Mumbai, Assam, Mohali and Kerala for expressing views on terrorism which was termed as hate speech under the IPC provisions.

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