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Updated: Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi Arrested Following Alleged Offensive Cartoons

Update: The Mumbai Police handed over Trivedi’s custody to a metropolitan magistrate court, yesterday, saying that they no longer needed him for investigation. However, Trivedi refused to apply for bail saying that he won’t apply for bail till sedition charges against him are dropped. Following this, he was sent to judicial custody till 24th September. The Mumbai Police Commissioner said that artists and cartoonists should not cross limits, according to a report by IBNLive.

Earlier: Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, who was also affiliated with India Against Corruption (IAC/Jan Lokpal-Team Anna), has been sent to judicial Custody till 16th September, on charges of sedition, following complaints filed against him for displaying cartoons at a Jan Lokpal agitation in Mumbai in December 2011, and on his website, CartoonsagainstCorruption.com.

He was arrested at a Mumbai Police Station, where he had surrendered on Saturday, on charges of sedition (under IPC 124A), violation of section 66A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008, and the Prevention of Insults of National Honour Act, 1971. A case has also been filed against Trivedi in the Bombay High Court under the State Emblem of India (Prohibition of Improper Use) Act 2005, which may attract a two-year prison term and a fine up to Rs 5,000.

Take down of his website: Trivedi’s website CartoonsagainstCorruption.com was reportedly suspended by web-hosting provider, Big Rock, on orders of the Mumbai Police, without a legal notice, court order, advance warning or a letter/email requesting to remove the objectionable content, as reported by The Wall Street Journal. However, Aseem’s cartoons are available on his blogger based blog  ‘http://www.cartoonsagainstcorruption.blogspot.in’. Mumbai Police’s cyber wing that had blocked Trivedi’s website, had said they did not recall the specific case, and that they routinely block objectionable sites.

Content in question: The cartoons in question include one which depicts India’s national emblem, the three Ashoka Lions, with wolves with the words ‘Satyamev Jayate’ replaced with ‘Brashtamev Jayate’ (corruption alone triumphs) and a danger sign, another one that pictures the Indian Parliament as a sewage dump with waste from polling booths depicted as toilets, flowing in. Another cartoon also features Congress Leader Digvijaya Singh.

According to a Rediff report, Trivedi clarified that the cartoons aimed at displaying the insult to the nation being done by politicians, and did not seek to insult national symbols in any way. It adds that he has refused to hire a lawyer and does not intend to apply for bail, calling the law on sedition a British-era product.

PCI Chairman’s support: Meanwhile, Press Council of India chairman, Justice Markandey Katju, has opined (via Outlook) that the arrest is illegal, and has said that Trivedi did not commit a crime by expressing his opinion and that in a democracy many things are said, some truthful and others false. He said that the Police has committed a crime by making a wrongful arrest.

Our Take (Nikhil adds)

There are a few issues to tackle here:

Firstly, there is a polity in India that is repeatedly getting accused of corruption, with scam after scam surfacing over the last four years. All political parties, especially the government in power, are being criticised by people online, as well as in mainstream publications. Online it becomes a matter of (almost) permanent record, while in print it tends to vanish. What we saw with the recent blocks following threats of attacks against citizens from the North Eastern part of India, was a sense that blocks instituted then were used to also block news reports. The recent blocking of parody accounts, and the arrest of another cartoonist who created a cartoon as a spoof, shows an increase in intolerance on the part of the government.

There has been an increase in government action, and of instances of censorship over the past year, and this, coupled with an increase in criticism, this is leading towards a deadlock: it appears that criticism will increase, and so will censorship. While there are a couple of years till the next election, a change in government doesn’t offer much respite because of the second issue: Laws that curtain freedom of speech and expression have been put into place, and this is far more difficult to reverse than to vote a government out: this has long term implications for citizens and businesses, online and offline.

It’s about time the Supreme Court of India stepped in suo moto, to bring a sense of maturity and sanity to governance (Internet or otherwise)

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