The pernicious sedition laws

Cricket fans in India are notorious for being highly enthusiastic that sometimes crosses over into being bad sports, getting angry when their team is doing badly. There was an infamous event in a 1996 World Cup tournament semi-final game against Sri Lanka that was being played in India. When India started doing poorly and were heading for defeat, fans halted the game twice by throwing bottles on to the field at the Sri Lankan fielders. The last straw was when some fans set fire to the stands. The match referee, the great West Indian cricketer Clive Lloyd, called off the match and awarded the win to Sri Lanka.

Now it seems that it is not only the fans who get carried away but even the judicial authorities. After Sunday’s ICC Champions Trophy loss to Pakistan comes reports that the police in India have arrested 15 people who had been celebrating Pakistan’s victory and are charging them, of all things, with sedition.

Fifteen people have been arrested in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh for allegedly shouting “anti-India and pro-Pakistan” slogans during the Champions Trophy cricket final.

Police told the BBC that the Muslim men had been charged with sedition.

They were arrested after their Hindu neighbours complained that they had burst crackers and shouted “pro-Pakistan” slogans during the game.

Pakistan won the final, defeating India by 180 runs.

Sedition is one of the most serious charges under the Indian penal code.

People charged with sedition have to surrender their passports, are not eligible for government jobs, must appear in court as and when required, and spend money on legal fees.

The India Today website quoted police as saying that the men were charged because of the anti-India slogans and not because they were cheering for Pakistan.

This is not the first time Indian Muslims have got into trouble for cheering for the Pakistan cricket team.

In 2014, 66 Muslim students from Indian-administered Kashmir were kicked out of their university in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh and charged with disturbing communal harmony.

And in 2016, police were sent into a university in Indian-administered Kashmir after clashes between students from the state and other parts of the country.

Sedition laws are a menace at the best of times because they tend to strip people of pretty much all their rights even before they are convicted. But using them when a country is not at war is unconscionable. The Espionage Act in the US is another example. It is being used against whistleblowers in order to intimidate and cover up government crimes.


  1. says

    People take sports way too seriously. I always thought it was a proxy for tribal raiding and murdering, so it’s a good way to let steam off of a particularly nasty part of the population, but its roots certainly go deeper than that.

  2. blf says

    Amnesty International: fans arrested in India for cheering Pakistan win ‘must be freed’ (the Grauniad’s edits in {curly braces}):

    • Nineteen men arrested in India following Pakistan’s Champions Trophy win
    • Fans face life imprisonment for sedition for chanting pro-Pakistan slogans

    “These arrests are patently absurd, and the 19 men should be released immediately,” said Amnesty International’s India programme director, Asmita Basu. “Even if the arrested men had supported Pakistan, as the police claim, that is not a crime. Supporting a sporting team is a matter of individual choice, and arresting someone for cheering a rival team clearly violates their right to freedom of expression.”


    Indian law defines sedition as any act or attempt “to bring into hatred or contempt, or{…} excite disaffection towards the government.”

    Asmita Basu said: “These cases show just why the sedition law should be immediately repealed. This law is excessively broad and vague and makes it easy to silence people who are legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression. Nobody should have to go to prison merely because they are accused of causing offense. The sedition law has no place in a rights-respecting society, let alone one that has a proud tradition of pluralism and debate.”

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