Colonial-era sedition laws are regularly invoked to silence criticism. Introduced in the sixteenth century in England specifically to suppress dissent, sedition laws spread through the British colonies. Now, TrialWatch is following the use of this law, with some jurisdictions having taken important steps to repeal or reform sedition laws, whereas in others, the law is being used as a key tool of repression.
In Asia, the dangers are shown in stark relief:
- In Hong Kong, after over 50 years of disuse and a period when reform—or even repeal—seemed possible, the authorities have again begun to charge sedition.
- In India, the same law used to put Gandhi behind bars is now being deployed by the Modi Government against climate activists, students and journalists: more than 7,000 individuals have been charged with sedition since Modi came to power.
- According to the U.N., in Malaysia between January 2014 and April 2015, at least 78 individuals were investigated or arrested under the Sedition Act.
- In Pakistan, the authorities have recently used sedition and related charges to stifle political activism, including on university campuses.
- In Thailand, since pro-democracy protests ignited in the summer of 2020, over 100 people have been charged with sedition.
In order to document this troubling trend, TrialWatch is monitoring sedition cases across Asia, including:
- In Pakistan: An academic charged with sedition for participation in protests
- In Thailand: Lawyers and protesters charged with sedition for criticism of the monarch; and members of an organization the authorities believe to be anti-monarchy.
- In India: TrialWatch is monitoring cases against journalists for tweeting about the January 2020 farmers protest in Delhi and against journalist Dhaval Patel, charged with sedition and spreading “false alarm or warning” for reporting on the handling of COVID-19 by the authorities in the state of Gujarat.
- In Malaysia: Following a trial monitored by TrialWatch, one of the defendants has since been brought in for questioning on suspicion of sedition for his criticism of the verdict.