:"This is about the law term. For other uses see Sedition (disambiguation)"

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.


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 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. [ Satire used to counter new sedition laws] , ABC's "Lateline" transcript, October 24 2006] 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. [ [ Australia’s new Sedition Laws] , Mike Head, "World Socialist Web Site", 27 October 2006]


During World War II former Mayor of Montreal Camillien Houde campaigned against conscription in Canada. On August 2, 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 August 18, 1944, he was greeted by a cheering crowd of 50,000 Montrealers and won back his job as Montreal mayor in 1944's civic election.

New Zealand

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 [ [ Law advice body wants to scrap crime of sedition] , "New Zealand Herald", October 17 2006] . The Police withdrew the sedition charge when Russell agreed to plead guilty on the other charge [ [ Sedition by Example XXII: Christopher Russell] , "No Right Turn" weblog, February 28, 2007] .

In March 2007, Mark Paul Deason, 32, manager of a tavern near the University of Otago, was charged with seditious intent [ [ Police move to cancel 'beer-for-petrol' publican's licence] , "", 11 April 2007] although he was later granted police diversion when he pleaded guilty to publishing a document which encourages public disorder [ [ Diversion over petrol-soaked couch promo] , "", 29 March 2007] 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 [PDFlink| [ Law Commission recommends abolition of seditious offences] |68.8 KiB , New Zealand Law Commission, 5 April 2007] , the New Zealand government announced on 7 May 2007 that the sedition law would be repealed [cite news| url=| title=Sedition law to be repealed| publisher=Radio New Zealand| date=2007-05-07|accessdate=2007-05-05] . The Crimes (Repeal of Seditious Offences) Amendment Bill was passed on 24 October 2007, and entered into force on 1 January 2008 [cite news| url=| title=New Zealand repeals sedition law| publisher=Wikinews| date=2007-10-24|accessdate=2007-10-24] .

United States

There have been 24 attempts in the United States to regulate speech that has been deemed seditious. 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' imprisonment for "opposing or resisting any law of the United States" or writing or publishing "false, scandalous, and malicious writing" about the President or Congress (but specifically not the Vice-President). The act was allowed to expire in 1801 after the election of Thomas Jefferson, Vice President at the time of the Act's passage.

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 1961Fact|date=October 2008, 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 [ [ VA nurse's letter to newspaper prompts sedition probe] , "Associated Press", published on "First Amendment Center", February 8 2006] after writing a letter [ [ Big Brother is Watching: A letter printed in the "Alibi" leads to the investigation of a local VA nurse for "sedition"] , "", February 9February 15, 2006] [ [ Speaking Truth to Power: An interview with Laura Berg] , "", March 9March 15, 2006] 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 [ [ ACLU of New Mexico defends VA employee accused of ‘Sedition’ over criticism of Bush Administration] , "ACLU", January 31 2006] . Charges were dropped in 2006 [] .

See also

* Seditious libel
* Mutiny
* Sedition Act
* Free speech

Notes and references

* Breight, Curtis, C. "Surveillance, militarism and drama in the Elizabethan Era", Macmillian 1996: London.

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • sédition — [ sedisjɔ̃ ] n. f. • 1209; lat. seditio ♦ Révolte concertée contre l autorité publique. « on ne trouve qu une sédition à Gand, en 1536, aisément réprimée, sans grande effusion de sang » (Taine). ⇒ agitation, insurrection, révolte. Sédition… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • sedition — se·di·tion /si di shən/ n [Latin seditio, literally, separation, from sed apart + itio act of going, from ire to go]: the crime of creating a revolt, disturbance, or violence against lawful civil authority with the intent to cause its overthrow… …   Law dictionary

  • sedition — SEDITION. s. f. Emotion populaire, souslevement contre la puissance legitime. Grande, furieuse, horrible sedition. durant la sedition. cela est capable de faire sedition. esmouvoir, exciter, allumer, fomenter, entretenir la sedition. appaiser,… …   Dictionnaire de l'Académie française

  • sedition — sedition, treason are comparable when they mean an offense against a state to which or a sovereign to whom one owes allegiance. Sedition applies to conduct that is not manifested in an overt act but that incites commotion and resistance to lawful …   New Dictionary of Synonyms

  • Sedition — Se*di tion, n. [OE. sedicioun, OF. sedition, F. s[ e]dition, fr. L. seditio, originally, a going aside; hence, an insurrectionary separation; pref. se , sed , aside + itio a going, fr. ire, itum, to go. Cf. {Issue}.] 1. The raising of commotion… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • sedition — Sedition, Seditio. Faire sedition en une cité, Seditionem in ciuitatem inducere. Esmouvoir sedition, Seditionem facere, conflare, concitare, commouere. Tascher à esmouvoir quelque sedition, Quaerere locum seditionis. S addonner à faire seditions …   Thresor de la langue françoyse

  • sedition — [si dish′ən] n. [ME sedicion < OFr < L seditio < sed , apart (see SECEDE) + itio, a going < ire, to go: see YEAR] 1. the stirring up of discontent, resistance, or rebellion against the government in power 2. Archaic revolt or… …   English World dictionary

  • Sedition — (v. lat. Seditĭo), Empörung, Aufstand; daher Seditios, aufrührerisch, unruhig; Seditiosität, Empörungs , Aufwiegelungssucht …   Pierer's Universal-Lexikon

  • Sedition — (lat.), Empörung; seditiös, aufrührerisch …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

  • Sedition — (lat.), Empörung, Aufstand; seditiös, aufrührerisch …   Kleines Konversations-Lexikon

  • sedition — (n.) late 14c., rebellion, from O.Fr. sedicion, from L. seditionem (nom. seditio) civil disorder, dissention, lit. a going apart, separation, from se apart (see SECRET (Cf. secret)) + itio a going, from pp. of ire to go (see …   Etymology dictionary

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