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Activists during a protest demanding the release of Kanhaiya Kumar, a Jawaharlal Nehru University students'-union leader accused of sedition, in New Delhi on March 2, 2016
K Asif—The India Today Group/Getty Images

India must do away with laws that allow its government to silence dissent and impugn freedom of speech in the country, international advocacy group Human Rights Watch said in a report released Tuesday.

The report, entitled Stifling Dissent: The Criminalization of Peaceful Expression in India, examines the Indian Penal Code and details several laws against sedition, hurting religious sentiments, defamation and hate speech that the group says belie India’s status as a vibrant democracy.

“Putting critics in prison or even forcing them to defend themselves in lengthy and expensive court proceedings undermines the government’s efforts to present India as a modern country in the Internet age committed to free speech and the rule of law,” Meenakshi Ganguly, Human Rights Watch’s South Asia director, said in a statement.

The report cites specific examples such as the recent controversy at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, where a student president was jailed under the colonial-era sedition law for allegedly shouting anti-India slogans. Freedom of expression has repeatedly become a matter of debate in India over the past year, with many accusing the right-wing administration of Prime Minister Narendra Modi of intolerance toward dissenters and religious minorities.

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