May 27, 2020
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Bizarre Sedition Charge Against Anti-Corruption Cartoonist

Bizarre Sedition Charge Against Anti-Corruption Cartoonist
outlookindia.com
1970-01-01T05:30:00+0530

Brief facts of the case

  • Aseem Trivedi, a Kanpur-based cartoonist, participated in, and displayed some cartoons at an Anna Hazare Jan Lok Pal rally held in December last year at the Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai
  • Soon thereafter his website cartoonsagainstcorruption, was suspended by web company Big Rock after a notice from the cyber wing of Mumbai police
  • Trivedi set up a Facebook page and also put up those cartoons at Google's blogspot.com, knowing Google's anti-censorship stance. The government would clearly find it more difficult to persuade Google to take off these cartoons unlike “Big Rock,” which hosted his suspended site.
  • A member of Republican Party of India, Amit Katarnayea filed a complaint against Trivedi
  • In January, a case of sedition (under IPC section 124A) was filed against him at the Beed district court.
  • In another case before the Bombay HC, Trivedi was charged with insulting national symbols, under Prevention of Insults of National Honour Act, 1971.
  • The other charge against him of course was violation of section 66A of the Information Technology (Amendment) Act, 2008
  • A team of Mumbai Police was sent to Kanpur on August 30 with non-bailable warrants, but by then Trivedi had moved to Delhi from where he contacted the BKC police station who asked him to reach Mumbai on his own
  • He surrended on Sept 8 night and was taken into custody.
  • Activist Shivam Vij reported: Trivedi has for the moment refused to hire a lawyer and does not intend to apply for bail: "I want to first see how a British-era law like sedition is going to be applied against a cartoonist in free India."
  • Today, Sept 9, he was remanded to police custody till September 16 by a local court in Bandra
  • Outside the court, a defiant Trivedi said, "If telling the truth makes me a traitor then I am one. Even Mahatma Gandi was called traitor and if I am booked under sedition for doing service to the nation then I will continue to do so."

More about Trivedi:

  • After the shutdown of his website, he became active with Anna's Jan Lok Pal and India Against Corruption (IAC) movement, but did not become an official member
  • He founded along with others Save Your Voice, a movement against internet censorship in India and travelled across India to raise awareness against the IT Rules 2011

Those who have spoken out against the arrest include:

  • Dr. Robert Russell, Executive Director of Cartoonists Rights Network International(CRNI): "Aseem’s enemies either don’t know how to interpret symbols in editorial cartoons or are knowingly twisting the law to silence dissent in order to shield corrupt officials.He has been awarded Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award for 2012 by CRNI.
  • Mayank Gandhi, a member of IAC: "If anyone is talking against corruption, proclaiming it as anti-national and slamming charges of sedition, one needs to understand that this is against the government and not against the country. He is not a member of IAC but is fighting against corruption and we are here to lend him moral support."
  • Preeti Menon, member IAC: "Whoever raises their voice against corruption is termed as a seditionist, anti-nationalist and a Naxalite."

There is an online petition demanding his immediate release which points out:

Slapping Sec 124a sedition on Aseem is absolutely unacceptable . Aseem’s cartoons are clearly not an attempt to co-opt national symbols for a commercial venture. In the language of the law, they do not tend to create an impression that they relate to the Government or that they are official documents of the Government. Aseem’s cartoons are indictments of the pervasive corruption in the corridors of India’s Parliament. And that’s political speech worthy of a great democracy’s protection. [Also read: more on Sedition]

And finally, Justice (Retd) Markandey Katju has spoken out, pointing out that the very arrest is illegal:

My opinion is that the cartoonist did nothing illegal. In a democracy many things are said, some truthful and others false. I often used to say in Court when I was a Judge that people can call me a fool or crook inside Court or outside but I will never take contempt of court proceedings, because either the allegation is true, in which case I deserve it, or it is false, in which case I will ignore it. These are occupational hazards, and politicians , like Judges, must learn to put up with them.

In fact arresting a cartooniist or any other person who has not committed a crime is itself a crime  under the Indian Penal Code called wrongful arrest and wrongful confinement.

So policemen who make such illegal arrests cannot take the plea that they were obeying orders of political superiors. In the Nuremberg trials thr Nazi War Criminals took the plea that orders are orders, and that they were only obeying the orders of their political superior Hitler but this plea was rejected by the International Tribunal which held that illegal orders should be disobeyed.

Postscript:

Shivam Vij spoke to Amit Katarnawre, 27, one of the main complainants, for rediff:

Katarnawre said he was offended by the cartoons as they, in his view, intentionally desecrated India's national symbols. He was particularly disturbed by the cartoon that shows Kasab as a dog peeing on the Constitution. "As a Buddhist my religious sentiments were hurt by the cartoon that uses the Ashokan lion pillar, as Emperor Ashoka was a Buddhist," he added.

Katarnawre is an employee of Central Railway and a Dalit. He says he is not a member of any political party but is ideologically an Ambedkarite who could not stand the Constitution being desecrated. He said Trivedi should be interrogated to ascertain the role of all members of Team Anna in the display of the cartoons at the MMRDA grounds. 

Read more on other bizarre cases of Sedition here
Read an appeal to repeal Sedition law here

Some comments and discussions on Twitter:

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