New York, September 10, 2012--Indian authorities should immediately drop all of the charges against cartoonist Aseem Trivedi and release him from detention, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.
Police in Maharashtra state arrested Trivedi, a 25-year-old freelancer from India's central Uttar Pradesh state, on Saturday, according to news reports. The cartoonist faces charges of sedition, violating Internet security laws, and insulting national honor for publishing cartoons mocking national symbols and criticizing corruption on his website, Cartoons Against Corruption, news reports said.
Trivedi has refused to apply for bail as an act of protest against the sedition charge, Alok Dixit, Trivedi's friend and founder of the Internet freedom campaign Save Your Voice, told CPJ by email. A Mumbai court ordered that the cartoonist be held until September 24, but a trial date has not yet been set, news reports said. It is not clear what total penalties Trivedi could face if found guilty.
"Criminalizing Aseem Trivedi's efforts to highlight the serious problem of corruption is a perverse exercise of power and runs completely counter to India's democratic principles," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "Authorities in Maharashtra must release Trivedi immediately and halt their obstruction of his work."
The charges against Trivedi stem from a December 2011 complaint from a lawyer in Mumbai, who said he was acting on his own, according to news reports. The cartoonist's website was subsequently blocked by Web-hosting service Big Rock, news reports said.
On August 30, eight months after the complaint was filed, police took an arrest warrant to Trivedi's Uttar Pradesh residence, according to Dixit. The cartoonist was not home at the time, Dixit told CPJ.
The reason for the delayed arrest is not clear. Dixit told CPJ that police said that Trivedi had "abscond[ed] for the past eight months," but, he said, Trivedi "was running a campaign, talking to media, available on Facebook, Twitter, everywhere."
The cartoonist surrendered in Mumbai on Saturday, according to Dixit.
Sedition charges have been used in reprisal against Indian journalists in the past, according to CPJ research. "If telling the truth makes one a traitor, then I am happy," Trivedi said outside the court, according to the U.K. daily Independent.
Trivedi's arrest comes in the wake of a national debate on Internet security as authorities tried to curb religious unrest by censoring online content. Internet freedom activists in India are concerned that government regulations to manage the nation's growing online communities could be used to suppress dissent.
- For more data and analysis on India, visit CPJ's India page here.