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Title: Sedition  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: History of English criminal law, Subversion, Sedition Act (Singapore), Bhutanese Citizenship Act 1958, Treason
Collection: Common Law Offences in England and Wales, Crimes, Sedition
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


In insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Seditious words in writing are seditious libel. A seditionist is one who engages in or promotes the interests of sedition.

Typically, sedition is considered a subversive act, and the overt acts that may be prosecutable under sedition laws vary from one legal code to another. Where the history of these legal codes has been traced, there is also a record of the change in the definition of the elements constituting sedition at certain points in history. This overview has served to develop a sociological definition of sedition as well, within the study of state persecution.


  • History in common law jurisdictions 1
    • Australia 1.1
    • Canada 1.2
    • Hong Kong 1.3
    • India 1.4
    • Malaysia 1.5
    • New Zealand 1.6
    • Singapore 1.7
    • United Kingdom 1.8
    • United States 1.9
      • Civilian 1.9.1
      • Military 1.9.2
  • Civil law jurisdictions 2
    • Germany 2.1
  • See also 3
  • Notes 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6
  • Further reading 7

History in common law jurisdictions

The term sedition in its modern meaning first appeared in the Elizabethan Era (c. 1590) as the "notion of inciting by words or writings disaffection towards the state or constituted authority". "Sedition complements treason and martial law: while treason controls primarily the privileged, ecclesiastical opponents, priests, and Jesuits, as well as certain commoners; and martial law frightens commoners, sedition frightens intellectuals."


Australia's sedition laws were amended in anti-terrorism legislation passed on 6 December 2005, updating definitions and increasing penalties.

In late 2006, the Commonwealth Government, under the Prime-Ministership of John Howard proposed plans to amend Australia's Crimes Act 1914, introducing laws that mean artists and writers may be jailed for up to seven years if their work was considered seditious or inspired sedition either deliberately or accidentally.[1] Opponents of these laws have suggested that they could be used against legitimate dissent.

In 2006, the then Australian attorney-general Philip Ruddock had rejected calls by two reports — from a Australian military. The new laws, inserted into the legislation December 2005, allow for the criminalization of basic expressions of political opposition, including supporting resistance to Australian military interventions, such as those in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Asia-Pacific region.[2]

These laws were amended in Australia on 19 September 2011. The ‘sedition’ clauses were repealed and replaced with ‘urging violence’. [2]


During World War II former Mayor of Montreal Camillien Houde campaigned against conscription in Canada. On 2 August 1940, Houde publicly urged the men of Quebec to ignore the National Registration Act. Three days later, he was placed under arrest by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police on charges of sedition. After being found guilty, he was confined in internment camps in Petawawa, Ontario, and Gagetown, New Brunswick, until 1944. Upon his release on 18 August 1944, he was greeted by a cheering crowd of 50,000 Montrealers and won back his position as the Mayor of Montreal in the election in 1944.

Hong Kong

A Sedition Ordinance had existed in the territory since 1970, which was subsequently consolidated into the Crime Ordinance in 1972.[3] According to the Crime Ordinance, a seditious intention is an intention to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the person of government, to excite inhabitants of Hong Kong to attempt to procure the alteration, otherwise than by lawful means, of any other matter in Hong Kong as by law established, to bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against the administration of justice in Hong Kong, to raise discontent or disaffection amongst inhabitants of Hong Kong, to promote feelings of ill-will and enmity between different classes of the population of Hong Kong, to incite persons to violence, or to counsel disobedience to law or to any lawful order.[4][5]

Article 23 of the Basic Law requires the special administrative region to enact laws prohibiting any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government of the People's Republic of China.[6] The National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill was tabled in early 2003 to replace the existing laws regarding treason and sedition, and to introduce new laws to prohibit secessionist and subversive acts and theft of state secrets, and to prohibit political organisations from establishing overseas ties. The bill was shelved following massive opposition from the public.


Sedition is defined by Section 124A of the Indian Penal code. The section had been inserted into the IPC by Imperial Legislative Council Act No. 27 of 1870. The original section was substituted with a new one by Act 4 of 1898. The section currently reads:

124A. Sedition Whoever, by words, either spoken or written, or by signs, or by visible representation, or otherwise, brings or attempts to bring into hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection towards,[1] the Government established by law in[2] India,[3] shall be punished with imprisonment for life,[4] to which fine may be added, or with imprisonment which may extend to three years, to which fine may be added, or with fine.
Explanation 1. — The expression “disaffection” includes disloyalty and all feelings of enmity.
Explanation 2. — Comments expressing disapprobation of the measures of the Government with a view to obtain their alteration by lawful means, without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.
Explanation 3. — Comments expressing disapprobation of the administrative or other action of the Government without exciting or attempting to excite hatred, contempt or disaffection, do not constitute an offence under this section.[8]

King's person. But I hold it to be a virtue to be disaffected towards a Government which in its totality has done more harm to India than any previous system. India is less manly under the British rule than she ever was before. Holding such a belief, I consider it to be a sin to have affection for the system."[9][10]

In 2010, writer Arundhati Roy was sought to be charged with sedition for her comments on Kashmir and Maoists.[11] Two individuals have been charged with sedition since 2007.[12] Binayak Sen, an Indian pediatrician, public health specialist and activist, was found guilty of sedition.[13] He is national Vice-President of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL). On 24 December 2010, the Additional Sessions and District Court Judge B.P Varma Raipur found Binayak Sen, Naxal ideologue Narayan Sanyal and Kolkata businessman Piyush Guha, guilty of sedition for helping the Maoists in their fight against the state. They were sentenced to life imprisonment, but he got bail in Supreme Court on 16 April 2011.[14]

On 10 September 2012, Aseem Trivedi, a political cartoonist, was sent to judicial custody till 24 September 2012 on charges of sedition over a series of cartoons against corruption. Trivedi was accused of uploading "ugly and obscene" content to his website, also accused of insulting the Constitution during an anti-corruption protest in Mumbai in 2011. Trivedi's arrest under sedition has been heavily criticized in India. The Press Council of India (PCI) termed it a "stupid" move.[15]


New Zealand

Sedition charges were not uncommon in New Zealand early in the 20th Century. For instance, the future Prime Minister Peter Fraser had been convicted of sedition in his youth for arguing against conscription during World War I, and was imprisoned for a year. Perhaps ironically, Fraser re-introduced the conscription of troops as the Prime Minister during World War II.[16]

In New Zealand's first sedition trial in decades, Tim Selwyn was convicted of sedition (section 83 of the Crimes Act 1961) on 8 June 2006. Shortly after, in September 2006, the New Zealand Police laid a sedition charge against a Rotorua youth, Christopher Russell, 17, who was also charged with threatening to kill.[17] The Police withdrew the sedition charge when Russell agreed to plead guilty on the other charge.[18]

In March 2007, Mark Paul Deason, the manager of a tavern near the University of Otago, was charged with seditious intent[19] although he was later granted diversion when he pleaded guilty to publishing a document which encourages public disorder[20] Deason ran a promotion for his tavern that offered one litre of beer for one litre of petrol. At the end of the promotion, the prize would have been a couch soaked in the petrol. It is presumed the intent was for the couch to be burned — a popular university student prank. Police also applied for Deason's liquor license to be revoked.

Following a recommendation from the New Zealand Law Commission,[21] the New Zealand government announced on 7 May 2007 that the sedition law would be repealed.[22] The Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Act 2007 was passed on 24 October 2007, and entered into force on 1 January 2008.[23]

Russell Campbell made a documentary regarding conscientious objectors in New Zealand called Sedition.


United Kingdom

Sedition was a common law offence in the UK. James Fitzjames Stephen's "Digest of the Criminal Law" stated that "a seditious intention is an intention to bring into hatred or contempt, or to exite disaffection against the person of His Majesty, his heirs or successors, or the government and constitution of the United Kingdom, as by law established, or either House of Parliament, or the administration of justice, or to excite His Majesty's subjects to attempt otherwise than by lawful means, the alteration of any matter in Church or State by law established, or to incite any person to commit any crime in disturbance of the peace, or to raise discontent or disaffection amongst His Majesty's subjects, or to promote feelings of ill-will and hostility between different classes of such subjects.

An intention to show that His Majesty has been misled or mistaken in his measures, or to point out errors or defects in the government or constitution as by law established, with a view to their reformation, or to excite His Majesty's subjects to attempt by lawful means the alteration of any matter in Church or State by law established, or to point out, in order to secure their removal, matters which are producing, or have a tendency to produce, feelings of hatred and ill-will between classes of His Majesty's subjects, is not a seditious intention."

Stephen in his "History of the Criminal Law of England" accepted the view that a seditious libel was nothing short of a direct incitement to disorder and violence. He stated that the modern view of the law was plainly and fully set out by Littledale J. in Collins. In that case the jury were instructed that they could convict of seditious libel only if they were satisfied that the defendant "meant that the people should make use of physical force as their own resource to obtain justice, and meant to excite the people to take the power in to their own hands, and meant to excite them to tumult and disorder."

The last prosecution for sedition in the United Kingdom was in 1972, when three people were charged with seditious conspiracy and uttering seditious words for attempting to recruit people to travel to Northern Ireland to fight in support of Republicans. The seditious conspiracy charge was dropped, but the men received suspended sentences for uttering seditious words and for offences against the Public Order Act.[24]

In 1977, a Law Commission working paper recommended that the common law offence of sedition in England and Wales be abolished. They said that they thought that this offence was redundant and that it was not necessary to have any offence of sedition.[24] However this proposal was not implemented until 2009, when sedition and seditious libel (as common law offences) were abolished by section 73 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 (with effect on 12 January 2010).[25] Sedition by an alien is still an offence under section 3 of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919.[26]

In Scotland, section 51 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 abolished the common law offences of sedition and leasing-making[27] with effect from 28 March 2011.[28]

United States


In 1798, President John Adams signed into law the Alien and Sedition Acts, the fourth of which, the Sedition Act or "An Act for the Punishment of Certain Crimes against the United States" set out punishments of up to two years of imprisonment for "opposing or resisting any law of the United States" or writing or publishing "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" about the President or the U.S. Congress (though not the office of the Vice-President, then occupied by Adams' political opponent Thomas Jefferson). This Act of Congress was allowed to expire in 1801 after Jefferson's election to the Presidency.

Political cartoon by Art Young, The Masses, 1917.

In the Espionage Act of 1917, Section 3 made it a federal crime, punishable by up to 20 years of imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000, to willfully spread false news of the American army and navy with an intent to disrupt their operations, to foment mutiny in their ranks, or to obstruct recruiting. This Act of Congress was amended Sedition Act of 1918, which expanded the scope of the Espionage Act to any statement criticizing the Government of the United States. These Acts were upheld in 1919 in the case of Schenck v. United States, but they were largely repealed in 1921, leaving laws forbidding foreign espionage in the United States and allowing military censorship of sensitive material.

In 1940, the Alien Registration Act, or "Socialist Worker's Party in Minneapolis in 1941, resulting in 23 convictions, and again in what became known as the Great Sedition Trial of 1944 in which a number of pro-Nazi figures were indicted but released when the prosecution ended in a mistrial. Also, a series of trials of 140 leaders of the Communist Party USA also relied upon the terms of the "Smith Act"—beginning in 1949—and lasting until 1957. Although the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the convictions of 11 CPUSA leaders in 1951 in Dennis v. United States, that same Court reversed itself in 1957 in the case of Yates v. United States, by ruling that teaching an ideal, no matter how harmful it may seem, does not equal advocating or planning its implementation. Although unused since at least 1961, the "Smith Act" remains a Federal law.

There was, however, a brief attempt to use the sedition laws against protesters of the Vietnam War. On 17 October 1967, two demonstrators, including then Marin County resident Al Wasserman, while engaged in a 'sit in' at the Army Induction Center in Oakland, Ca., were arrested and charged with sedition by deputy US. Marshall Richard St. Germain. U.S. Attorney Cecil Poole changed the charge to trespassing. Poole said, "three guys (according to Mr. Wasserman there were only 2) reaching up and touching the leg of an inductee, and that's conspiracy to commit sedition? That's ridiculous!" The inductees were in the process of physically stepping on the demonstrators as they attempted to enter the building, and the demonstrators were trying to protect themselves from the inductees' feet. Attorney Poole later added, "We'll decide what to prosecute, not marshals."[29]

In 1981, [30] The clemency agreement required him to renounce the use of terrorism, including use or advocacy of the use of violence, to achieve their aim of independence for Puerto Rico, by that means refraining from the for any purpose.[31] Congressman Pedro Pierluisi, has stated that "the primary reason that López Rivera did not accept the clemency offer extended to him in 1999 was because it had not also been extended to certain fellow [ independence ] prisoner, including Mr. Torres", and who was subsequently released from prison in July 2010."[32]

In 1987, fourteen white supremacists were indicted by a federal grand jury on charges filed by the U.S. Department of Justice against a seditious conspiracy between July 1983 and March 1985. Some alleged conspirators were serving time for overt acts, such as the crimes committed by The Order. Others such as Louis Beam and Richard Butler were charged for their speech seen as spurring on the overt acts by the others. In April 1988, a federal jury in Arkansas acquitted all the accused of charges of seditious conspiracy.[33]

On 1 October 1995, Omar Abdel-Rahman and nine others were convicted of seditious conspiracy.[34]

Laura Berg, a nurse at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in New Mexico was investigated for sedition in September 2005[35] after writing a letter[36][37] to the editor of a local newspaper, accusing several national leaders of criminal negligence. Though their action was later deemed unwarranted by the director of Veteran Affairs, local human resources personnel took it upon themselves to request an FBI investigation. Ms. Berg was represented by the ACLU.[38] Charges were dropped in 2006.[39]

On 28 March 2010, nine members of the Hutaree militia were arrested and charged with crimes including seditious conspiracy.[40]


Sedition is a punishable offense under Article 94 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice.[41]

Civil law jurisdictions


Volksverhetzung ("incitement of the people") is a legal concept in Germany and some Nordic countries. It is sometimes loosely translated as sedition,[42] although the law bans the incitement of hatred against a segment of the population. Segment of the population meaning, for example, a race or religion.

See also


  1. ^ The words "Her Majesty or" omitted by the A.O. 1950. The words "or the Crown Representative inserted after the word "Majesty" by the A.O. 1937 were omitted by the A.O. 1948.[7]
  2. ^ The words "British India" have successively been subs. by the A.O. 1948, the A.O.1950 and Act 3 of 1951, sec.3 and sch. to read as above.
  3. ^ The words "or "British Burma" ins. by the A.O.1937 omitted by the A.O.1948.
  4. ^ Subs. by Act 26 of 1955, sec.117 and sch., for "Transportation for life or any shorter term" (w.e.f.1-1-1956).


  1. ^ Satire used to counter new sedition laws, ABC's Lateline transcript, 24 October 2006
  2. ^ Australia’s new Sedition Laws, Mike Head, World Socialist Web Site, 27 October 2006
  3. ^ Cap 200 Long title (CRIMES ORDINANCE). Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  4. ^ Cap 200 s 9. (30 June 1997). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  5. ^ Cap 2601 s 6. (1 July 1997). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  6. ^ Chapter 2, Basic Law. Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  7. ^ Criminal Law – Indian Penal Code,1860 – Section 124-A – Sedition. Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  8. ^ Section 124A in The Indian Penal Code. Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  9. ^ Famous Speeches Of Gandhiji : Statement In The Great Trial Of 1922.
  10. ^ Talking like a friend – Visakhapatnam. The Hindu (30 January 2011). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  11. ^ "Sedition and treason: the difference between the two", IBN Live, 25 October 2010.
  12. ^ Sedition and treason: the difference between the two. IBNLive (11 September 2012). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  13. ^ s mother breaks down on hearing HC verdictBinayak Sen. (10 February 2011)
  14. ^ It’s the first step towards justice, says Sen Release Committee. Indian Express (16 April 2011). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  15. ^ Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi sent to judicial custody, govt faces flak. Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  16. ^ Today in History: 22 December 1916 – Future PM Fraser charged with sedition,, History Group of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
  17. ^ Collins, Simon (17 October 2006). "Law advice body wants to scrap crime of sedition".  
  18. ^ Sedition by Example XXII: Christopher Russell, No Right Turn weblog, 28 February 2007
  19. ^ Police move to cancel 'beer-for-petrol' publican's licence,, 11 April 2007
  20. ^ Diversion over petrol-soaked couch promo,, 29 March 2007
  21. ^ Law Commission recommends abolition of seditious offences PDF (68.8 KB), New Zealand Law Commission, 5 April 2007
  22. ^ "Sedition law to be repealed".  
  23. ^ "New Zealand repeals sedition law". Wikinews. 24 October 2007. Retrieved 24 October 2007. 
  24. ^ a b The Law Commission, Treason, Sedition and Allied Offences (Working Paper No.72), paragraph 47 [1977] EWLC C72, BAILII
  25. ^ Coroners and Justice Act 2009. (5 May 2015). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  26. ^ section 3, Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919
  27. ^ Criminal Justice & Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, section 51. (6 November 2014). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  28. ^ The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 (Commencement No. 8, Transitional and Savings Provisions) Order 2011. Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  29. ^ San Francisco Chronicle, 21 October 1967, p. 7, UPI – Independent Journal of Marin, 21 October 1967, p. 4
  30. ^ Puerto Rico: Free Oscar López Rivera! Steven Katsineris. Green Left Weekly. Issue 879. 15 May 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  31. ^ 12 Imprisoned Puerto Ricans Accept Clemency Conditions, New York Times article by John Broder, 8 September 1999.
  32. ^ Letter from Congressman Pedro L. Pierluisi to President Barack Obama. Pedro L. Perluisi. U.S. House of Representatives. 21 February 2013. Page 3. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  33. ^ "Louis Beam" at Anti-Defamation League (ADL) website. ADL. Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  34. ^ Richard Perez-Pena, "The Terror Conspiracy—The Charges—A Gamble Pays Off as the Prosecution Uses an Obscure 19th-Century Law", The New York Times, 2 October 1995.
  35. ^ VA nurse's letter to newspaper prompts sedition probe, Associated Press, published on First Amendment Center, 8 February 2006
  36. ^ leads to the investigation of a local VA nurse for "sedition"AlibiBig Brother is Watching: A letter printed in the ,, 9–15 February 2006
  37. ^ Speaking Truth to Power: An interview with Laura Berg,, 9–15 March 2006
  38. ^ ACLU of New Mexico defends VA employee accused of ‘Sedition’ over criticism of Bush Administration, ACLU, 31 January 2006
  39. ^ Treason of the Clerks. (25 April 2006). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  40. ^ Hutaree Militia Fact Sheet.
  41. ^ Uniform Code of Military Justice. Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  42. ^ sedition – Deutsch-Übersetzung – Linguee Wörterbuch. (13 November 2006). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.

External links

  • Sedition under Indian Penal Code, 1860

Further reading

  • Breight, Curtis, C. Surveillance, militarism and drama in the Elizabethan Era, Macmillan 1996: London.
  • A synopsis of the Australian sedition laws PDF
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