Of late, there has been talk – and action has been contemplated – against a law that has existed since before the partition of the Subcontinent; Section 124A of the Pakistan Penal Code, that deals with “sedition”.

The text of said section of the law itself, explains this phenomenon quite succinctly: “Whoever...brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards, the Federal or Provincial Government established by law shall be punished with imprisonment for life to which fine may be added...”. The text explains the various means which such “conveyors of acrimony” towards our worthy governments might resort to. It also elaborates various other punishments that might be meted out to them.

A Senate bill recently moved by its former Chairman, Mian Raza Rabbani, aims at repealing this “draconian” law; which so many amongst the press, political classes, legal fraternity and rights groups alike, have decried as being “archaic” or “anachronistic to modern day democracy”. References to how this law is being used against the Pashtun Tahaffuz Movement (PTM), civil rights activists, student bodies and journalists are being made. They point out how this law was used by the British – yes, it certainly dates to that time, and India has also inherited an identically-numbered section in its Penal Code, too – to quell and muzzle dissent and opposition by the “natives” against their foreign-born masters. They’re of the view that this law was specifically designed by the British to further stifle the already-repressed voices of the “natives” that were clamouring for freedom, before Partition.

See, that’s where they’re wrong. The US has a sedition law, too. So do Australia, Canada, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, India – yes, the same one that’s identically-numbered as our law – and Singapore. The British have one that dates back to 1661 (and how’s that for “archaic”). The mere presence of a law, thus – black or white or whatever hue it may be considered – can’t really be the cause for such a fuss. All of them are also worded fairly similar to the way our law is worded; so that can’t be it, either.

The answer, of course – and as always – lies elsewhere. Within the application of the law, rather than the law itself. Having served as Law Minister under the PPP, one would tend to think that the sedition law may have been applied on occasion under Raza Rabbani’s discerning gaze. If not, it’s conceivable that it may have been applied to this-or-the-other seditious individual when Rabbani Sb was Minister for Human Rights, and it was his duty to ensure that no such thing should occur. I’m certainly not privy to the details of such cases, or whether such cases were actually registered, even. I leave it to the reader’s ingenuity to “get what I mean”, nevertheless.

Rather than the wording, or origin, or age of the law itself, then, more important is the correct, fair and just application of the law. How it is often used to intimidate and indeed, muzzle political opponents and those who are viewed as particularly noisy and irksome by the government of the time; is what makes it questionable – egregious, even. When such governments become former governments, it would seem such laws, too, become persona non grata within the lexicography of legal-speak and legislative practices. Others like them, as well. The NAB laws, for example. Contempt of case laws. Laws that give the government of the time free rein, place curbs on “free speech”, or infringe upon the right to agitate and protest – all of them are “draconian”; but only when one is occupying the opposition benches, it seems. When one is in power, it’s rather convenient to be able to legally wield said power’s manifestations, too.

Let’s take the example of our most well-known section of the law; the dreaded “Teen Sau Do” (302), which deals with murder and describes various punishments for the act. Many times, this section and its related sections pertaining to conspiracy to murder, intent to murder, and the actual steps to committing murder, are also applied erroneously and injudiciously – and with clear malintent – in so many cases. Just because the application of a law may be incorrect, must we insist on doing away with the law altogether? Should we simply repeal Section 302 – another throwback to colonial times, coincidentally – on the grounds that it might be; in fact, commonly misused? If the answer to that is “yes”; well, we might do away with all laws, altogether, since they all have an intrinsic ability to be interpreted and applied for personal/political gain.

Laws are meant to provide direction as well as deterrence, and must not be applied willy-nilly simply to cause maximum possible effect. Perhaps more than the rule of the law, our politicians, parliamentarians, jurists, and civil society need to be more mindful of the rules for the law. All laws. Not just one we seem to be hell-bent on undoing, merely for the sake of it. We have so many of them. Perhaps we need to be more judicious in their application and implementation.

Let’s not do this, I say. Who knows when we might really need it? And if we do need it at some point, who’s going to legislate it? I’d go out on a limb and say “no-one”, but that might be considered seditious of me.