Cheering For Contenders Isn’t Sedition, Lawyers Debate Amid Din

Indian cricket captain congratulating Pak team over win.

Despite some serious charges slapped on Kashmiri students for their cheering act, legal experts say that the cases are completely untenable and that celebrating the result of a cricket match cannot be a criminal activity.

AS the censured celebrations are snowballing into the major controversy and putting three more Kashmiri families in the legal soup, a former Supreme Court judge has stated that celebrating a rival team’s victory is “not sedition”.

Justice Deepak Gupta said that celebrating a Pakistani victory over India may be offensive or unwise “but it is not a crime and illegal”.

The legal luminary’s comments came at a time when three Kashmiri students have been arrested in Agra for allegedly sharing pro-Pakistan posts on WhatsApp after India lost the T-20 World Cup match against Pakistan on October 27.

The trio—Arsheed Yusuf, Inayat Altaf Sheikh and Showkat Ahmed Gilani—are students of Raja Balwant Singh Engineering Technical College in Agra. Following their campus suspension, they were booked for sedition by Uttar Pradesh Police on the instructions of Yogi Adityanath led government.

This cheering act has already whipped passions elsewhere, with BJP’s Jammu leader calling for “skin alive” Kashmiris for their “pro-Pakistan” celebrations. Even as the leader has been booked and dismissed from his party positions, the charges on celebration have already triggered a debate.

Legal experts argue that the cases are completely untenable and that celebrating the result of a cricket match cannot be a criminal activity.

“While authorities can decide what’s lawful and what’s not, but freedom of expression was never considered an offence,” Mir Urfi, a Srinagar-based criminal lawyer, told Kashmir Observer.

“We’re living in a democratic set-up and have been guaranteed freedom of expression. It can be in favour of the system or against the system.”

The same freedom of expression came under radar after a number of videos of Kashmiri students celebrating Pakistan’s win against India went viral on social media and sparked an outrage in mainland India.

Police filed an FIR under Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA) against this viral cheering act. Although the move was denounced as excessive, this was not the first time that Kashmiris were booked for cheering for the Pakistan cricket team.

In 2014, over 60 Kashmiri students who had cheered for Pakistan in Meerut were booked by the Uttar Pradesh government on charges of sedition, causing damage to property, and for promoting enmity between different groups. However, the charges of sedition were later withdrawn after a preliminary inquiry, while the others remained.

Three Kashmiri arrested students.

Advocate Urfi who has been handling UAPA cases for years now said the law under which the students have been booked is very harsh.

“UAPA is a specialised legislation to curb terrorism, you can’t book anyone under the law. This law is being misused here. This will destroy their career entirely,” she said. “One can cheer for any team living in the country.”

Another Kashmiri lawyer, Habeel Iqbal maintains that cheering or celebrating the win may be indiscretion, but surely not a crime.

“Court has time and again said that chanting a slogan like these is not a crime,” advocate Habeel told Kashmir Observer.

When asked if there was a judgment already, why didn’t the judge in Uttar Pradesh refuse police remand to students, the young advocate said, “The court only sees the legality during the remand. While it could’ve refused the remand, but most of the times the remand is not refused. Every case is based on its own facts and circumstances and it is very difficult to refuse the remand at that time.”

However, advocate Ankur Sharma argues that cheering for Pakistan amid the ongoing dispute means allegiance to the “enemy nation”.

“The students who cheered for Pakistan are the products of an ecosystem and the act can’t be seen in isolation,” he said. “We’re a democratic country but no one has been given the right to challenge the sovereignty and integrity of the country.”

However, countering advocate Ankur’s views, advocate Urfi said if Kashmiri students are the “products of an ecosystem”, what about the people who were booked in Rajasthan and many states of India?

“It’s not the case of Pakistan only,” she said. “It’s about freedom of expression that has been guaranteed by the Constitution of India under Article 19(1) (a).”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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