Sedition is a term of law which refers to covert conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority as tending toward 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.
Because sedition is typically considered a subversive act, the overt acts that may be prosecutable under sedition laws vary from one legal code to another. Where those legal codes have a traceable history, there is also a record of the change of definition for what constituted sedition at certain points in history. This overview has served to develop a sociological definition of sedition as well, within study of persecution.
The difference between sedition and treason consists primarily in the subjective ultimate object of the violation to the public peace. Sedition does not consist of levying war against a government nor of adhering to its enemies, giving enemies aid, and giving enemies comfort. Nor does it consist, in most representative democracies, of peaceful protest against a government, nor of attempting to change the government by democratic means (such as direct democracy or constitutional convention).
Put simply, sedition is the stirring up of rebellion against the government in power. Treason is the violation of allegiance to one's sovereign or state and has to do with giving aid to enemies or levying war. Sedition is more about encouraging the people to rebel, where treason is actually betraying the country.
In late 2006, the Howard government 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. Opponents of these laws have suggested that they could be used against legitimate dissent.
Over the past year, Australian attorney-general Philip Ruddock has 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 has 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.
The new laws, inserted into the legislation last December, 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.
In March 2007, Mark Paul Deason, 32, manager of a tavern near the University of Otago, was charged with seditious intent although he was later granted police diversion when he pleaded guilty to publishing a document which encourages public disorder Deason ran a promotion for his Tavern that offered 1 litre of beer for 1 litre 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, the New Zealand government announced on 7 May 2007 that the sedition law would be repealed. The Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill was passed on 24 October 2007, and entered into force on 1 January 2008.
The Espionage Act of 1917 may also be considered a sedition law of sorts, as section 3 made it a crime, punishable by 20 years' imprisonment and a fine of up to $10,000, to wilfully spread false news of the US military with an intent to disrupt their operations, to foment mutiny in the ranks, or obstruct recruiting. The act was amended in 1918 with the Sedition Act, which expanded the purview of the Espionage Act to any statements made criticizing the government. The act was upheld in 1919 in Schenck v. United States, but was repealed largely in 1921, leaving mostly laws forbidding espionage and allowing military censorship of sensitive material.
In 1940, the Alien Registration Act or Smith Act was passed, which made it a crime to advocate or 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 organizations. The act was invoked in three major trials, one of the Socialist Worker's Party in Minneapolis in 1941, resulting in 23 convictions, and again in 1944 in what became known as "The Great Sedition Trial", of pro-Nazi figures which ended in a mistrial. A series of trials of 140 leaders of the Communist Party USA was also predicated upon the Smith Act beginning in 1949, and lasting until 1957. Although the Supreme Court upheld the convictions of 11 CPUSA leaders in 1951, the court reversed itself in 1957 in 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 US law.
Laura Berg, a nurse at a United States Department of Veterans Affairs-run hospital in New Mexico was investigated for sedition in September 2005 after writing a letter to the editor of a local newspaper, accusing several national leaders of criminal negligence. Though their action was later deemed unwarranted by the 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. Charges were dropped in 2006