Cartoonist sent to judicial custody, government faces flak on issue (Roundup)

September 10th, 2012 - 11:40 pm ICT by IANS  

Anna Hazare Mumbai/New Delhi, Sep 10 (IANS) Barely a day in police custody for questioning after his arrest on sedition charges, cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was Monday sent to judicial custody as his case created a nationwide furore and led to widespread criticism of the government’s “intolerance”.

As rights activists criticized the arrest for an alleged derogatory cartoon and the Press Council of India (PCI) head slammed the “stupid” move, the central government however maintained that targeting of national symbols by cartoonists would not be allowed.

Facing sedition charges under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, along with other offences under the Information Technology Act, Trivedi was arrested in Mumbai late Saturday and sent to seven days police custody by a magistrate Sunday.

After questioning him for a day, police decided not to grill the cartoonist any further. He was produced again before a court which sent him to judicial custody till Sep 24.

Trivedi, an activist of India Against Corruption (IAC), has refused to apply bail in the case until the sedition charges - which attract a maximum life imprisonment - are withdrawn.

A resident of Shuklaganj near Kanpur, he has been spearheading a ‘Cartoons Against Corruption’ campaign on social media networks.

The 25 year-old is accused of uploading “ugly and obscene” matter on his web portal and for putting up objectionable banners insulting the Indian constitution during Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption agitation in Mumbai last December.

The case saw the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), which holds the home minister’s post in the Maharashtra government, tie itself in confusion.

While Home Minister R.R. Patil claimed that his department was not involved in the case and assured that the government would arrange for Trivedi’s speedy release, the party defended the police action and even demanded that the cartoonist should apologise before his case could be considered sympathetically.

In Delhi, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said while the government had “no problems” with cartoons, “they should stay within constitutional parameters”. She added that “they cannot make national symbols the object of their cartoon”.

The IAC demanded that Trivedi be “unconditionally released” and “the baseless charge of sedition be withdrawn instantly”.

Trivedi’s harassment “smacks of vendetta against the anti-corruption movement, and portrays sign of a paranoid state”, said an IAC statement.

“IAC firmly stands for freedom of expression and expresses its anguish against a growing culture of intolerance for creative expression in the public domain,” the statement added.

PCI chairperson Katju roundly criticized Trivedi’s arrest, saying politicians should learn to be more tolerant.

Terming the arrest “wrongful”, Katju slammed the sedition charges against Trivedi as “nonsense, stupid” and said they should be “dismissed as frivolous”. He also termed the arrest of the young cartoonist as “misuse of state machinery”.

On Twitter too, the arrest attracted criticism. Author Chetan Bhagat tweeted: “Arresting a young, anti-corruption cartoonist? UPA totally lost the plot? Disastrous political move. Just erased urban youth vote.”

Cartoonist Hemant Morparia wondered how a cartoon could be termed as “waging war against the state”. “The cartoon was more of a polemic.. waging war against the state? How can it be considered as that?” he asked.

Well known cartoonist Sudhir Dar said the arrest showed increasing intolerance. “We haven’t yet developed a healthy sense of humour, we are becoming more and more intolerant.”

The criticism over the arrest of the cartoonist comes days after a controversy over an article in the US daily Washington Post that described Prime Minister Manmohan Singh as “a tragic figure”.

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani had taken a swipe at the prime minister’s media advisor and the way in which he had handled the Washington Post article, and the party Monday again attacked the government for its handling of the criticism in the US newspaper and of Trivedi’s case.

“If an article is written in Washington Post, then a letter is dashed off to it by this government. If a cartoonist, using his right to freedom of speech, expresses his views, then he becomes a danger to national security,” BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said.

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