Last updated

Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that tends toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent towards, or resistance against established 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 interest of sedition.

Organization social entity (not necessarily commercial) uniting people into a structured group managing shared means to meet some needs, or to pursue collective goals

An organization or organisation is an entity comprising multiple people, such as an institution or an association, that has a particular purpose.

Subversion Attempt to transform the established social order and its structures

Subversion refers to a process by which the values and principles of a system in place are contradicted or reversed, in an attempt to transform the established social order and its structures of power, authority, hierarchy, and social norms. Subversion can be described as an attack on the public morale and, "the will to resist intervention are the products of combined political and social or class loyalties which are usually attached to national symbols. Following penetration, and parallel with the forced disintegration of political and social institutions of the state, these loyalties may be detached and transferred to the political or ideological cause of the aggressor". Subversion is used as a tool to achieve political goals because it generally carries less risk, cost, and difficulty as opposed to open belligerency. Furthermore, it is a relatively cheap form of warfare that does not require large amounts of training. A subversive is something or someone carrying the potential for some degree of subversion. In this context, a "subversive" is sometimes called a "traitor" with respect to the government in power.

Constitution Set of fundamental principles or established precedents according to which a state or other organization is governed

A constitution is an aggregate of fundamental principles or established precedents that constitute the legal basis of a polity, organisation or other type of entity, and commonly determine how that entity is to be governed.


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.

In criminal law, an overt act is the one that can be clearly proved by evidence and from which criminal intent can be inferred, as opposed to a mere intention in the mind to commit a crime. Therefore, it is an act that, while innocent per se, can potentially be used as evidence against someone during a trial to show participation in a crime. For instance, the purchase of a ski mask, which can conceal identity, is generally a legal act but may be an overt act if it is purchased in the planning of a bank robbery.

Sociology Scientific study of human society and its origins, development, organizations, and institutions

Sociology is the scientific study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction, and culture of everyday life. It is a social science that uses various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change or social evolution. While some sociologists conduct research that may be applied directly to social policy and welfare, others focus primarily on refining the theoretical understanding of social processes. Subject matter ranges from the micro-sociology level of individual agency and interaction to the macro level of systems and the social structure.

Persecution is the systematic mistreatment of an individual or group by another individual or group. The most common forms are religious persecution, racism and political persecution, though there is naturally some overlap between these terms. The inflicting of suffering, harassment, imprisonment, internment, fear, or pain are all factors that may establish persecution, but not all suffering will necessarily establish persecution. The suffering experienced by the victim must be sufficiently severe. The threshold level of severity has been a source of much debate.

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." [1]

Treason Crime against ones sovereign or nation

In law, treason is criminal disloyalty to the state. It is a crime that covers some of the more extreme acts against one's nation or sovereign. This usually includes things such as participating in a war against one's native country, attempting to overthrow its government, spying on its military, its diplomats, or its secret services for a hostile and foreign power, or attempting to kill its head of state. A person who commits treason is known in law as a traitor.

Martial law temporary state of government wherein curfews, the suspension of civil law, civil rights, and habeas corpus are suspended, and the application of military law is extended to civilians

Martial law is the imposition of direct military control of normal civilian functions of government, especially in response to a temporary emergency such as invasion or major disaster, or in an occupied territory.

Society of Jesus male religious congregation of the Catholic Church

The Society of Jesus is a scholarly religious congregation of the Catholic Church for men which originated in sixteenth-century Spain. The members are called Jesuits. The society is engaged in evangelization and apostolic ministry in 112 nations. Jesuits work in education, intellectual research, and cultural pursuits. Jesuits also give retreats, minister in hospitals and parishes, sponsor direct social ministries, and promote ecumenical dialogue.


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

Australia Country in Oceania

Australia, officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a sovereign country comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania and numerous smaller islands. It is the largest country in Oceania and the world's sixth-largest country by total area. The neighbouring countries are Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and East Timor to the north; the Solomon Islands and Vanuatu to the north-east; and New Zealand to the south-east. The population of 25 million is highly urbanised and heavily concentrated on the eastern seaboard. Australia's capital is Canberra, and its largest city is Sydney. The country's other major metropolitan areas are Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide.

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. [2] Opponents of these laws have suggested that they could be used against legitimate dissent.

John Howard Australian politician, 25th Prime Minister of Australia

John Winston Howard, is an Australian former politician who served as the 25th Prime Minister of Australia from 1996 to 2007. He is the second-longest serving Australian Prime Minister, behind only Sir Robert Menzies, who was in office for over 18 years. Howard was leader of the Liberal Party from 1985 to 1989 and from 1995 to 2007.

In 2006, the then Australian attorney-general Philip Ruddock had rejected calls by two reports — from a Senate committee and the Australian Law Reform Commission — to limit the sedition provisions in the Anti-Terrorism Act 2005 by requiring proof of intention to cause disaffection or violence. He had also brushed aside recommendations to curtail new clauses outlawing “urging conduct” that “assists” an “organisation or country engaged in armed hostilities” against the Australian military.

Australian Senate upper house of the Australian Parliament

The Senate is the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of Australia, the lower house being the House of Representatives. The composition and powers of the Senate are established in Chapter I of the Constitution of Australia. There are a total of 76 Senators: 12 are elected from each of the six states regardless of population and 2 from each of the two autonomous internal territories. Senators are popularly elected under the single transferable vote system of proportional representation.

The Australian Law Reform Commission is an Australian independent statutory body established to conduct reviews into the law of Australia.The reviews, also called inquiries or references, are referred to the ALRC by the Attorney-General of Australia. Based on its research and consultations throughout an inquiry, the ALRC makes recommendations to government so that government can make informed decisions about law reform.

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. [3]

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


In Canada, sedition, which includes speaking seditious words, publishing a seditious libel, and being party to a seditious conspiracy, is an indictable offense, for which the maximum punishment is of fourteen years' imprisonment.

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. [4]

Hong Kong

A Sedition Ordinance had existed in the territory since 1970, which was subsequently consolidated into the Crime Ordinance in 1972. [5] 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. [6] [7]

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. [8] 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.


In 2010, writer Arundhati Roy was sought to be charged with sedition for her comments on Kashmir and Maoists. [9] Two individuals have been charged with sedition since 2007. [10] Binayak Sen, an Indian paediatrician, public health specialist, and activist was found guilty of sedition. [11] 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 (politician) 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. [12]

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 criticised in India. The Press Council of India (PCI) termed it a "stupid" move. [13]

In February 2016, JNU student union president Kanhaiya Kumar was arrested on charges of Sedition & raising voice for the "tukde tukde gang" under section 124-A of Indian Penal Code (which was part of the sedition laws implemented by the British Rule). His arrest raised political turmoil in the country with academicians and activists marching and protesting against this move by the government. He was released on interim bail on 2 March 2016 for a lack of conclusive evidence. [14]

On 17 August 2016, Amnesty International India was booked in a case of "sedition" and "promoting enmity" by Bengaluru police. A complaint was filed by ABVP, an all India student organisation affiliated to Nationalists RSS.

In September 2018, Divya Spandana, the Congress Social Media chief was booked for sedition for calling Narendra Modi, the prime minister of India, a thief. [15] On 13 January 2019, The Delhi Police filed a chargesheet on Monday against former Jawaharlal Nehru University Students' Union (JNUSU) president Kanhaiya Kumar and others in a sedition case lodge in 2016. [16]

On 10 January 2019, a sedition case was registered suo-motto against Noted Cambridge Scholar and Assamese Intellectual Dr Hiren Gohain and 2 others for their remarks against the Citizenship (Amendment) Bill. Dr. Gohain (80) called the move “a desperate attempt by a cornered government.” [17]


Article 40.6.1° (i) of the 1937 Constitution of Ireland guaranteed the right to freedom of expression, subject to several constraints, among them: [18]

The publication or utterance of blasphemous, seditious, or indecent matter is an offence which shall be punishable in accordance with law.

Advocates for freedom of speech have argued that this constraint ought to be removed; [19] [20] any constitutional amendment requires a referendum. The thirty-seventh amendment to the constitution removed the requirement for blasphemy to be an offence.

The law of the Republic of Ireland since the 1922 independence of the Irish Free State inherited earlier common law principles based on English law. [21] The crime of seditious libel was presumed to persist, although last prosecuted in 1901. [22] [23] After the common law offence of blasphemous libel was ruled in 1999 to be incompatible with the constitution's guarantee of freedom of speech, jurists argued that seditious libel was similarly unconstitutional. [19] [20] Both blasphemous libel and seditious libel were abolished by the Defamation Act 2009, which also created new crime of "publication or utterance of blasphemous matter" to fulfil the constitutional requirement with regard to blasphemy. [24] [20] No new offence was created for sedition in 2009; [20] this was in line with the recommendations of a 1991 consultation paper on libel by the Law Reform Commission (LRC) on the basis that several statutes define offences which are tantamount to sedition. [25]

The Offences against the State Act 1939 created the offences of making, distributing, and possessing a "seditious document". [26] [27] [28] The LRC suggests that "sedition", left undefined by the constitution, might be implicitly defined by the 1939 act's definition of a "seditious document" as one: [29]

  1. consisting of or containing matter calculated or tending to undermine the public order or the authority of the State, or
  2. which alleges, implies, or suggests or is calculated to suggest that the government functioning under the Constitution is not the lawful government of the State or that there is :in existence in the State any body or organisation not functioning under the Constitution which is entitled to be recognized as being the government of the country, or
  3. which alleges, implies, or suggests or is calculated to suggest that the military forces maintained under the Constitution are not the lawful military forces of the State, or that there is in existence in the State a body or organisation not established and maintained by virtue of the Constitution which is entitled to be recognised as a military force, or
  4. in which words, abbreviations, or symbols referable to a military body are used in referring to an unlawful organisation

These provisions were largely aimed at Irish republican legitimatists who believed the 1922 Free State was a usurpation of the Irish Republic proclaimed in 1916 and again in 1919. The fourth provision made the use of the names "Irish Republican Army" and "Óglaigh na hÉireann" seditious as they were regarded as rightfully used by the Irish Defence Forces. The LRC notes that advocating violence is not essential for a document to be seditious. [29]

The LRC also notes that Section 1A of the Broadcasting Authority Act 1960 (inserted in 1976 [30] ) prohibited broadcasting of "anything which may reasonably be regarded as being likely to promote, or incite to, crime or as tending to undermine the authority of the State". [31] The 1960 act has since been replaced by the Broadcasting Act 2009, section 39 of which obliges broadcaster not to broadcast "anything which may reasonably be regarded as causing harm or offence, or as being likely to promote, or incite to, crime or as tending to undermine the authority of the State". [32]


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. [33]

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, who was also charged with threatening to kill. [34] The Police withdrew the sedition charge when the youth agreed to plead guilty on the other charge. [35]

In March 2007, Mark Paul Deason, the manager of a tavern near the University of Otago, was charged with seditious intent [36] although he was later granted diversion when he pleaded guilty to publishing a document which encourages public disorder. [37] Deason ran a promotion for his tavern that offered one litre of beer for one litre of petrol where 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, [38] the New Zealand government announced on 7 May 2007 that the sedition law would be repealed. [39] The Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Act 2007 was passed on 24 October 2007, and entered into force on 1 January 2008. [40]

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. [41]

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. [41] 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). [42] Sedition by an alien is still an offence under section 3 of the Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919. [43]

In Scotland, section 51 of the Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 abolished the common law offences of sedition and leasing-making [44] with effect from 28 March 2011. [45]

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. [46]

Political cartoon by Art Young, The Masses, 1917. Jesus wanted poster.jpg
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 or navy with an intent to disrupt its operations, to foment mutiny in their ranks, or to obstruct recruiting. This Act of Congress was amended by the 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 "Smith Act", was passed, which made it a federal crime to advocate or to teach the desirability of overthrowing the United States Government, or to be a member of any organization which does the same. It was often used against Communist Party organizations. This Act was invoked in three major cases, one of which against the 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, California, 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." [47]

In 1981, Oscar López Rivera, a Puerto Rican Nationalist and Vietnam war veteran, was convicted and sentenced to 70 years in prison for seditious conspiracy and various other offenses. He was among the 16 Puerto Rican nationalists offered conditional clemency by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1999, but he rejected the offer. His sister, Zenaida López, said he refused the offer because on parole, he would be in "prison outside prison". He has been jailed for 37 years, 10 months and 8 days. [48] 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. [49] 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 [ Puerto Rico independence movement ] prisoners, including Mr. Torres". [50] (Torres was subsequently released from prison in July 2010.)

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. [51]

On 1 October 1995, Omar Abdel-Rahman and nine others were convicted of seditious conspiracy. [52]

Laura Berg, a nurse at a U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs hospital in New Mexico was investigated for sedition in September 2005 [53] after writing a letter [54] [55] 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. [56] Charges were dropped in 2006. [57]

On 28 March 2010, nine members of the Hutaree militia were arrested and charged with crimes including seditious conspiracy. [58] In August, 2012, U.S. District Judge Victoria Roberts dismissed all serious charges against the remaining defendants, including sedition, and rebuked prosecutors for bringing the case. One man, Jacob Ward, was found not competent to stand trial. Three of the men, Joshua John Clough, David Brian Stone Sr., the leader of the group, and his son Joshua Stone, pleaded guilty to weapons charges. [59]


Sedition is a punishable offense under Article 94 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. [60]

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, [61] although the law bans the incitement of hatred against a segment of the population such as a particular race or religion.

See also

Related Research Articles

High treason in the United Kingdom

Under the law of the United Kingdom, high treason is the crime of disloyalty to the Crown. Offences constituting high treason include plotting the murder of the sovereign; committing adultery with the sovereign's consort, with the sovereign's eldest unmarried daughter, or with the wife of the heir to the throne; levying war against the sovereign and adhering to the sovereign's enemies, giving them aid or comfort; and attempting to undermine the lawfully established line of succession. Several other crimes have historically been categorised as high treason, including counterfeiting money and being a Catholic priest.

Blasphemous libel was originally an offence under the common law of England. Today, it is an offence under the common law of Northern Ireland, but has been abolished in England and Wales, and repealed in Canada and New Zealand. It consists of the publication of material which exposes the Christian religion to scurrility, vilification, ridicule, and contempt, with material that must have the tendency to shock and outrage the feelings of Christians. It is a form of criminal libel.

Criminal libel is a legal term, of English origin, which may be used with one of two distinct meanings, in those common law jurisdictions where it is still used.

Sedition and seditious libel were criminal offences under English common law, and are still criminal offences in Canada. Sedition is overt conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority to tend toward insurrection against the established order: if the statement is in writing or some other permanent form it is seditious libel. Libel denotes a printed form of communication such as writing or drawing.

Sedition Act (Singapore) Law of Singapore

The Sedition Act is a Singaporean statute law which prohibits seditious acts and speech; and the printing, publication, sale, distribution, reproduction and importation of seditious publications. The essential ingredient of any offence under the Act is the finding of a "seditious tendency", and the intention of the offender is irrelevant. The Act also lists several examples of what is not a seditious tendency, and provides defences for accused persons in a limited number of situations.

Australian sedition law was an area of the criminal law of Australia relating to the crime of sedition.

Northern Ireland law refers to the legal system of statute and common law operating in Northern Ireland since the partition of Ireland established Northern Ireland as a separate jurisdiction within the United Kingdom in 1921.

Sedition Act 1661 Mostly superseded United Kingdom Law

The Sedition Act 1661 was an Act of the Parliament of England, although it was extended to Scotland in 1708. Passed shortly after the Restoration of Charles II, it is no longer in force, but some of its provisions continue to survive today in the Treason Act 1695 and the Treason Felony Act 1848. One clause which was included in the Treason Act 1695 was later adapted for the United States Constitution.

Tim Selwyn is a New Zealand political activist who was found guilty of sedition on 8 June 2006, the first person charged with sedition in New Zealand for more than 30 years. He is also editor of Tumeke! magazine, has a blog with the same name.

The Sedition Act 1948 in Malaysia is a law prohibiting discourse deemed as seditious. The act was originally enacted by the colonial authorities of British Malaya in 1948. The act criminalises speech with "seditious tendency", including that which would "bring into hatred or contempt or to excite disaffection against" the government or engender "feelings of ill-will and hostility between different races". The meaning of "seditious tendency" is defined in section 3 of the Sedition Act 1948 and in substance it is similar to the English common law definition of sedition, with modifications to suit local circumstances. The Malaysian definition includes the questioning of certain portions of the Constitution of Malaysia, namely those pertaining to the Malaysian social contract, such as Article 153, which deals with special rights for the bumiputra.

English criminal law

English criminal law concerns offences, their prevention and the consequences, in England and Wales. Criminal conduct is considered to be a wrong against the whole of a community, rather than just the private individuals affected. The state, in addition to certain international organisations, has responsibility for crime prevention, for bringing the culprits to justice, and for dealing with convicted offenders. The police, the criminal courts and prisons are all publicly funded services, though the main focus of criminal law concerns the role of the courts, how they apply criminal statutes and common law, and why some forms of behaviour are considered criminal. The fundamentals of a crime are a guilty act and a guilty mental state. The traditional view is that moral culpability requires that a defendant should have recognised or intended that they were acting wrongly, although in modern regulation a large number of offences relating to road traffic, environmental damage, financial services and corporations, create strict liability that can be proven simply by the guilty act.

Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Act 2007

The Crimes Amendment Act 2007 is an Act of Parliament passed in New Zealand in 2007. It removed the crime of sedition from the New Zealand statute book.

Incitement to Mutiny Act 1797

The Incitement to Mutiny Act 1797 was an Act passed by the Parliament of Great Britain. The Act was passed in the aftermath of the Spithead and Nore mutinies and aimed to prevent the seduction of sailors and soldiers to commit mutiny.

In the state of Ireland, "publication or utterance of blasphemous matter", defamatory of any religion, is criminalised by a 2009 statute passed to enforce a requirement of the 1937 Constitution. The constitutional requirement was deleted in 2018 after a referendum and the Fine Gael-led government plans to repeal the 2009 law, which was intended to be "virtually impossible" to enforce, and under which no prosecution has ever been made. The common law offence of blasphemous libel, applicable only to Christianity and last prosecuted in 1855, was believed to fulfil the constitutional requirement until a 1999 ruling that it was incompatible with the constitution's guarantee of religious equality. The 2009 statute filled the lacuna but increased controversy, with proponents of freedom of speech and freedom of religion arguing for amending the constitution.

The publishing of any "blasphemous libel" was a crime in New Zealand under Section 123 of the Crimes Act 1961 which allowed for imprisonment for up to one year. However, Section 123 protected all publications and opinions on any religious subject expressed in good faith and decent language against prosecution and specified that prosecution may proceed only with the leave of the Attorney-General.

Common law offences are crimes under English criminal law and the related criminal law of other Commonwealth countries. They are offences under the common law, developed entirely by the law courts, and therefore have no specific bases in statute.

English law did not originally make a distinction between criminal and civil proceedings.

The crime of treason is defined by Article 39 of the Constitution of Ireland, adopted in 1937, which states:

treason shall consist only in levying war against the State, or assisting any State or person or inciting or conspiring with any person to levy war against the State, or attempting by force of arms or other violent means to overthrow the organs of government established by the Constitution, or taking part or being concerned in or inciting or conspiring with any person to make or to take part or be concerned in any such attempt.



"Consultation Paper on The Crime of Libel". Dublin: Law Reform Commission. August 1991. Retrieved 11 May 2016.


  1. C. Breight (7 November 1996). Surveillance, Militarism and Drama in the Elizabethan Era. Springer. pp. 89–90. ISBN   978-0-230-37302-0.
  2. Satire used to counter new sedition laws, ABC's Lateline transcript, 24 October 2006
  3. Australia’s new Sedition Laws, Mike Head, World Socialist Web Site, 27 October 2006
  4. McKenna, Brian (March 4, 2015). "Camillien Houde". The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  5. Cap 200 Long title (CRIMES ORDINANCE). Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  6. Cap 200 s 9. (30 June 1997). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  7. Cap 2601 s 6. (1 July 1997). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  8. Chapter 2, Basic Law. Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  9. "Sedition and treason: the difference between the two", IBN Live, 25 October 2010.
  10. Sedition and treason: the difference between the two. IBNLive (11 September 2012). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  11. Binayak Sen's mother breaks down on hearing HC verdict. (10 February 2011)
  12. It’s the first step towards justice, says Sen Release Committee. Indian Express (16 April 2011). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  13. Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi sent to judicial custody, govt faces flak Archived 12 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine . Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  14. Mathur, Aneesha (March 3, 2016). "JNU row: Kanhaiya Kumar gets bail and a lesson on thoughts that 'infect… (like) gangrene'". The Indian Express. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  15. "Hours after sedition case, Congress' Divya Spandana again tweets 'PM Chor Hai'". Deccan Chronicle . Mumbai. 27 September 2018. Retrieved 9 October 2018.
  17. "Sedition charges absurd and grotesque: Hiren Gohain". Times of India .
  18. "Constitution of Ireland". Irish Statute Book . Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  19. 1 2 Joint Committee on the Constitution (July 2008). "Article 40.6.1.i — Freedom of Expression" (PDF). First Report. Oireachtas. pp. 41, Sections 2.116, 2.117. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  20. 1 2 3 4 Murray, Colin (11 September 2009). "Blasphemy, Sedition and the Defamation Act 2009". Human Rights in Ireland. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  21. Law Reform Commission 1991, Chapter One
  22. Law Reform Commission 1991, section 75
  23. Forde, Michael; Leonard, David (2013). Constitutional Law of Ireland. A&C Black. pp. 845, section 29.11. ISBN   9781847667380 . Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  24. "Defamation Act 2009". Irish Statute Book . Sections 35, 36. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  25. Law Reform Commission 1991, sections 215, 216, 217
  26. Law Reform Commission 1991, section 215
  27. "Offences Against the State Act, 1939". Irish Statute Book . Sections 2, 10(1)(c), 12. Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  28. Quinn, Sean E. (2009). Criminal Law in Ireland. Irish Law Publishing. sections 51.102–51.111. ISBN   9781871509540.
  29. 1 2 Law Reform Commission 1991, section 82; citing Section 2 of the Offences Against the State Act, 1939
  30. "Broadcasting Authority (Amendment) Act, 1976, Section 3". Irish Statute Book . Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  31. Law Reform Commission 1991, section 216
  32. "Broadcasting Act 2009, Section 39". Irish Statute Book . Retrieved 11 May 2016.
  33. Today in History: 22 December 1916 – Future PM Fraser charged with sedition,, History Group of the New Zealand Ministry for Culture and Heritage.
  34. Collins, Simon (17 October 2006). "Law advice body wants to scrap crime of sedition". The New Zealand Herald . Retrieved 8 November 2011.
  35. Sedition by Example XXII: Christopher Russell, No Right Turn weblog, 28 February 2007
  36. Police move to cancel 'beer-for-petrol' publican's licence,, 11 April 2007
  37. Diversion over petrol-soaked couch promo,, 29 March 2007
  38. "Law Commission recommends abolition of seditious offences" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 2 June 2010. (68.8 KB), New Zealand Law Commission, 5 April 2007
  39. "Sedition law to be repealed". Radio New Zealand. 7 May 2007. Archived from the original on 18 January 2012. Retrieved 5 May 2007.
  40. "New Zealand repeals sedition law". Wikinews. 24 October 2007. Retrieved 24 October 2007.
  41. 1 2 The Law Commission, Treason, Sedition and Allied Offences (Working Paper No.72), paragraphs 78 and 96(6) [1977] EWLC C72, BAILII
  42. Coroners and Justice Act 2009. (5 May 2015). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  43. section 3, Aliens Restriction (Amendment) Act 1919
  44. Criminal Justice & Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010, section 51. (6 November 2014). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  45. The Criminal Justice and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2010 (Commencement No. 8, Transitional and Savings Provisions) Order 2011. Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  46. "The Sedition Act of 1798". History, Art & Archives, U.S. House of Representatives. Retrieved January 29, 2018.
  47. San Francisco Chronicle, 21 October 1967, p. 7, UPI – Independent Journal of Marin, 21 October 1967, p. 4
  48. Puerto Rico: Free Oscar López Rivera! Steven Katsineris. Green Left Weekly. Issue 879. 15 May 2011. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
  49. 12 Imprisoned Puerto Ricans Accept Clemency Conditions, New York Times article by John Broder, 8 September 1999.
  50. Letter from Congressman Pedro L. Pierluisi to President Barack Obama. Archived 23 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine Pedro L. Perluisi. U.S. House of Representatives. 21 February 2013. Page 3. Retrieved 12 December 2013.
  51. "Louis Beam" at Anti-Defamation League (ADL) website Archived 19 December 2011 at the Wayback Machine . ADL. Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  52. 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.
  53. VA nurse's letter to newspaper prompts sedition probe Archived 25 July 2008 at the Stanford Web Archive , Associated Press , published on First Amendment Center, 8 February 2006
  54. Big Brother is Watching: A letter printed in the Alibi leads to the investigation of a local VA nurse for "sedition",, 9–15 February 2006
  55. Speaking Truth to Power: An interview with Laura Berg,, 9–15 March 2006
  56. ACLU of New Mexico defends VA employee accused of ‘Sedition’ over criticism of Bush Administration, ACLU , 31 January 2006
  57. Treason of the Clerks. (25 April 2006). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.
  58. Hutaree Militia Fact Sheet.
  59. . Reuters (08 August 2012) Retrieved on 2019-02-20.
  60. Uniform Code of Military Justice. Retrieved on 19 September 2015.
  61. sedition – Deutsch-Übersetzung – Linguee Wörterbuch. (13 November 2006). Retrieved on 2015-09-19.

Further reading