The government is using the sedition law with an iron hand to curb free speech in an overreaction to people's opinion, former Supreme Court judge Justice M B Lokur said on Monday. Another method by which the state is curbing free speech is to crack down on critical opinions by charging them of spreading fake news, Justice (retried) Lokur said at a webinar on 'Freedom of Speech and Judiciary'.
He cited examples of journalists reporting about coronavirus cases and related issue such as lack of ventilators, being charged with fake news provisions. "State is using sedition as an iron hand to curb free speech. Suddenly you have a lot of cases charging people with sedition. A common citizen who says something is charged with sedition. Already 70 cases of sedition have been seen this year," Justice Lokur said.
Speaking on the contempt of court issue related to lawyer Prashant Bhushan, the former apex court judge said his statements were misread. He also gave an example of doctor Kafeel Khan and said his speech was also misread to charge him with the National Security Act over his statements against the Citizenship Amendment Act.
Veteran journalist N Ram said the punishment in the Prashant Bhushan case is "incongruous" and there is no "real substantiation" for the apex court's findings. "I have great respect for the judiciary. It is the judiciary which read freedom of the press into the Constitution," Ram said at the webinar organised by Campaign for Judicial Accountability and Reforms (CJAR) and Swaraj Abhiyan There will be more and more scrutiny of the judiciary in the coming days, he said, adding that harsher things are said in print and media than the tweets of Bhushan.
Social activist Aruna Roy said the empowerment which people got because of Bhushan's positions is enormous and the case has stimulated people. "This intent to spread fear will not work. We are empowered by the Constitution," she said.
Meanwhile, Bhushan deposited the token fine of Re 1 imposed by the Supreme Court in the contempt case over two of his tweets in the in the apex court's Registry. Talking to media before submitting the fine, Bhushan said that he has received contributions from several corners of the country for paying the fine, and a "truth fund" will be created out of such contributions to provide legal aid to those who are prosecuted for dissenting opinions.
"The State is using all means to silence voices of dissent. The 'truth fund' will be used to protect the personal liberty to those persons who face the State's persecution", he said.