Indian opposition seeks scrapping of 1870 sedition law after students charged

Police used the 1870 law against 10 people, including a student organizer, for the 2016 rally at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University where police say anti-India posters were raised. (File/AFP)
Updated 16 January 2019
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Indian opposition seeks scrapping of 1870 sedition law after students charged

  • India is sensitive about Kashmir, its only Muslim majority state, where it is struggling to put down a decades-old revolt
  • The sedition law carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment

NEW DELHI: India opposition politicians and media called for a colonial-era sedition law to be scrapped on Wednesday, accusing authorities of trying to suppress dissent after it was invoked against students marking the execution of a Kashmiri militant.
Police used the 1870 law against 10 people, including a student organizer, for the 2016 rally at Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University where police say anti-India posters were raised.
The students denied the allegations and critics said Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government was trying to curb free speech and pander to his Hindu nationalist base ahead of his re-election bid in a few months.
“There is no need for a sedition law in today’s times, it is a colonial law,” said Kapil Sibal, a senior leader of the main opposition Congress party.
“Many who merely speak or tweet against the government have sedition charges imposed against them; it is being misused by the center just to keep citizens in check.”
Kanhaiya Kumar, the student leader, attended the rally questioning the execution of the Kashmiri separatist convicted of an attack on parliament in 2001, but his lawyers said he rejected the use of violence and made no incendiary comments.
Instead, his supporters said he criticized a right-wing student fraternity and a Hindu-nationalist umbrella group to which Modi’s ruling party belongs.
“The fact that the charges are being made three years after the alleged use of “anti-national slogans” by JNU students in February 2016, and on the eve of the general elections, suggests that their motive is political,” Manoj Joshi, a fellow at the New Delhi-based think tank Observer Research Foundation, wrote in Mail Today.
India is sensitive about Kashmir, its only Muslim majority state, where it is struggling to put down a decades-old revolt. India and Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from Britain in 1947, two of them over Kashmir, which they both claim in full but rule in part.
Hindu nationalists tied to Modi’s party have long advocated a tough posture on Kashmir and say any policy of appeasement undermines India’s security.
The sedition law carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
“Independent India should have the confidence to scrap the anachronistic sedition law suited for the police state that existed before 1947, and let free speech flourish without fearing its own citizens so much,” The Economic Times said.
Police in the remote northeastern Indian state of Assam said last week they were also investigating an academic, a journalist and a peasant leader for possible sedition for publicly opposing a proposal to grant citizenship to non-Muslims from neighboring Muslim-majority countries.
“This law now needs to go. A mature, liberal democracy cannot fight its own citizens,” the Hindustan Times said.


More than 60 dead in South Africa flooding after heavy rains

Updated 18 min 31 sec ago
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More than 60 dead in South Africa flooding after heavy rains

  • Rescue workers were digging through collapsed buildings on Wednesday
  • The rains mainly hit areas around the port city of Durban

DURBAN: At least 60 people have been killed and more than 1,000 have fled their homes after heavy rains caused flooding and mudslides along South Africa’s eastern coast, authorities said on Wednesday.
Most of the deaths were in KwaZulu-Natal province. Flooding also killed at least three people in neighboring Eastern Cape province, state broadcaster SABC said.
The rains mainly hit areas around the port city of Durban. Multiple dwellings collapsed in mudslides, said Robert McKenzie, a KwaZulu-Natal Emergency Medical Services spokesman.
Rescue workers were digging through collapsed buildings on Wednesday.
Victor da Silva, a resident of the coastal town of Amanzimtoti, said his family managed to evacuate before the floods destroyed their home and cars.
“On Monday, the water was just crazy. And yesterday morning I got here, everything was fine, my garage was still here, the other part of the house was still here, and it just couldn’t stop raining,” Da Silva said. “And then an hour and a half later, everything poof (vanished) because the rain just hasn’t stopped.
Authorities in southern Tanzania ordered evacuations of residents from low-lying areas and the closure of schools and offices ahead of landfall of Tropical Cyclone Kenneth on neighboring Mozambique’s coast on Thursday.
“We’ve decided to evacuate all residents of valleys and other low-lying areas and we advise them to seek refuge at public spaces,” Mtwara regional commissioner Gelasius Byakanwa, told reporters.
Johan Fourie said he fled his home in Amanzimtoti, Kwazulu-Natal, just before part of it collapsed.
“I nearly lost my life, and my neighbor, I believe, is in hospital,” Fourie told eNCA television.
The region had been hit by heavy rains for days, but authorities did not foresee the extent of the downpour late on Monday, said Lennox Mabaso, a spokesman for the provincial Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs department.
“As a result, there was flooding and some structures were undermined and collapsed on people,” Mabaso said.
Some people were swept away by the water, he added.
President Cyril Ramaphosa visited affected communities in KwaZulu-Natal on Wednesday and was expected in the Eastern Cape in the next few days.
“This is partly what climate change is about, that it just hits when we least expect it,” he said.
Last week, 13 people were killed during an Easter service in KwaZulu-Natal when a church wall collapsed after days of heavy rains and strong winds.