Opposition leader Rahul Gandhi petitioned India’s Supreme Court on Saturday to suspend the defamation conviction that led to his expulsion from the country’s parliament.
In March, a court in Surat sentenced Gandhi, the former president of the Indian National Congress (INC), to two years in prison for remarks made in a 2019 campaign speech, in which he attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The verdict instantly cost him his seat in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India’s parliament. The politician was also barred from seeking elected office for eight years.
Gandhi appealed the verdict in the Gujarat High Court earlier this month and lost, arguing that the decision to uphold the conviction “has no parallel or precedent in the jurisprudence of the law of defamation.”
In his filing to the Supreme Court, cited by Indian media, Gandhi said that the punishment was “gravely detrimental to democratic free speech in the midst of a political campaign.” He added that it “will set a disastrous precedent wiping out any form of political dialogue or debate which is remotely critical in any manner.”
During a rally in 2019, Gandhi accused the government of corruption and suggested that “all thieves have Modi in their names.” Gujarati politician Purnesh Modi sued Gandhi, claiming that he had defamed everyone with the last name Modi. Gandhi responded by arguing that no one other than the prime minister had the right to sue him over the comment in question.
Read more: Rahul Gandhi files appeal in defamation case
India will have several Lok Sabha by-elections this year, followed by a general election in 2024.