Jailed Indian cartoonist released on bail

After originally refusing to seek bail, Aseem Trivedi leaves prison following government vow to review sedition charges.

    Jailed Indian cartoonist released on bail
    Trivedi had been arrested on charges of sedition for drawings to satirise corruption in Indian politics [EPA]

    An Indian cartoonist detained on sedition charges for drawings that satirise corruption in Indian politics has been released on bail, according to media reports.

    Supporters cheered and waved flags as Aseem Trivedi, a freelance cartoonist and anti-corruption campaigner, walked out of Mumbai's Arthur Road Jail on Wednesday after a court ruled there was no need to hold him in custody.

    The arrest of a cartoonist on sedition charges had rekindled a national debate on freedom of speech, weeks after a clampdown on Twitter in the world's largest democracy.

    Trivedi, 25, had originally refused to seek bail, demanding the charges be dropped, but accepted the Mumbai High Court's bail grant of Rs5,000 ($90) after the local government promised to review the charges against him. 

    Trivedi was arrested on Sunday, after a private complaint was filed in a Mumbai court by a young lawyer who charged that the pictures mocked national symbols.

    If found guilty, the satirist could face up to three years in prison.

    Continued crusade

    Upon release, Trivedi said that that he would continue to his crusade through caricatures portraying the truth in the
    interest of social and ethical justice for the masses as well as the classes.

    "This battle against sedition and censorship will continue till the time 124A Section is not eliminated from our Constitution. This battle was not confined till my release. It was for the Right of Freedom of Speech, which is not being allowed to exercise across the country," Trivedi said. 

    Trivedi became an instant cause celebre among free-speech and anti-corruption activists who complain India's corruption-plagued government is increasingly intolerant of criticism.

    Just last month, Manmohan Singh, India's prime minister, temporarily blocked access to a number of Twitter accounts, including several spoof accounts imitating his.

    Trivedi's arrest has also sparked a mounting domestic and international backlash against the government, accused by critics of using colonial era laws to crush dissent.

    "Politicians must learn to be tolerant. This is not a dictatorship," Markandey Katju, a former supreme court justice who now heads the Press Council of India, told CNN-IBN television.

    Anti-corruption campaign

    Taken aback by the vehement protests, RR Patel, home minister of Maharashtra state, said the government would review Trivedi's case and the charge.

    Trivedi, a freelance cartoonist, was one of two winners of the 2012 Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award by the US-based Cartoonists Rights Network International.

    His cartoons, lampooning widespread corruption among Indian politicians, were displayed at a Mumbai protest in December by the anti-corruption crusader, Anna Hazare.

    The Mumbai-based lawyer's complaint to police cited one of those drawings that showed the four lions that form India's national symbol replaced by four wolves and the national slogan "truth shall prevail" replaced by "corruption shall prevail".

    Ambika Soni, India's information minister, stressed that the constitution guaranteed freedom of expression but "also lays downs that we as Indian citizens should respect all national symbols".

    "Our government is not for censorship; it is for self-regulation at every step," she said.

    Troubling precedents

    Trivedi's arrest came five months after a university professor was arrested in West Bengal for forwarding an email cartoon that caricatured Mamata Banerjee, the state's chief minister.

    Last month, a farmer in West Bengal was arrested and branded a Maoist sympathiser after questioning Banerjee on her farm policy at a public meeting.

    Both are out on bail and face lesser charges than sedition.

    Earlier this year, senior education officials resigned amid a parliamentary uproar over a textbook that included a six-decade-old cartoon criticising delays in crafting the constitution.

    Indian law defines sedition as an act that brings hatred or attempts to excite disaffection towards the government.

    The law dates from India's colonial era when British rulers used it against Indian freedom fighters, including India's independence leader Mohandas K Gandhi.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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