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Indian cartoonist free on bail, will fight sedition charge

Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivedi is free on bail today after being jailed Saturday in Mumbai on charges of sedition and insulting Indian national symbols. The case, which stems from a display of cartoons at a protest in December and on his website Cartoons Against Corruption, has led to a widespread public outcry within the country.

Trivedi was arrested after a complaint was filed by a law student, Amit Katarnayea:

“I saw the exhibition of cartoons at the protest organised by [anti-corruption activist] Anna Hazare at Bandra-Kurla Complex in December 2011. It had Kasab’s face on animals peeing on Constitution, the lions of the Ashoka emblem were replaced by wolves and Parliament was shown as a commode. As a responsible citizen, I felt duty bound to complain to the police against Trivedi for exhibiting such insulting cartoons,” the third-year law student from DY Patil College, Nerul, said on Monday.

“Anna and his team should have stopped the exhibition.” Katarnaware said the charges of sedition have been rightly applied as the cartoons are an insult to Constitution.

Trivedi, the winner of this year’s Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award, said he wasn’t aware of the charges until the Mumbai police came to his home on Aug. 30. Trivedi wasn’t home, but the officers brought his parents in to the police station; when he arrived, he was informed of the charges. He announced he would surrender a few days later, saying, “I will not seek anticipatory bail. If I am held guilty of sedition in my own country on account of my cartoons, then it’s better not to fight any case at all.”

The sedition charge stems from a colonial-era law that, according to this Washington Post article, is used to intimidate dissenters but seldom results in a conviction; the maximum penalty under that law would be life imprisonment. Human Rights Watch has called on India to repeal the law. Trivedi also faces two more charges, under Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act and Section 2 of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act, which could lead to lesser penalties.

Trivedi initially said he wouldn’t seek bail until the sedition charge was dropped, and supporters circulated a statement in Hindi, purportedly from Trivedi, that said, “I am not seeking bail because I am proud of whatever I did, and this I will do it repeatedly. I am not a criminal that I should deposit money and seek bail, but till the time the charges of sedition are not dropped against me, I will continue to be in jail.” However, a local attorney petitioned the court for bail and the motion was granted.

The case is proving to be an embarrassment to local authorities. Bollywood personality Mahesh Bhatt, India Against Corruption activist Mayank Gandhi and Mumbai Press Club chief Gurbir Singh displayed copies of Trivedi’s cartoons and dared the government to charge them with sedition as well, and a retired justice called for the sedition law to be scrapped. Home Minister R.R. Patil said he was reviewing whether to drop the charges.

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