IFJ Calls for Immediate Discharge of Indian Cartoonist Arrested on Sedition Charge

The International Federation of Journalists joins

partners and affiliates in India in calling for the immediate and unconditional

discharge of Aseem Trivedi, a cartoonist and anti-corruption campaigner

arrested on September 8 on charges of sedition and causing insult to India’s national

emblems.

 

Trivedi was remanded to a week in police custody by a

court in the city of Mumbai on September 9. Following critical remarks by the

Home Minister of Maharashtra state and much public outrage, the police on

September 10 informed the court that it had completed investigations into a

criminal complaint filed in January and had no further need to detain Trivedi.

The cartoonist however, refused to apply for bail, demanding his unconditional

discharge in all cases. In the circumstances, his remand was extended for

another two weeks.

 

India’s Supreme Court has in a judgment delivered in

1962, held the sedition clause of the penal code in violation of the

fundamental right to free speech, unless invoked to deal with an imminent

threat of violence. There have been few credible suggestions of a threat of

violence arising from the publication of Trivedi’s cartoons on a website which

has since been shut down.

 

The other laws that Trivedi has been charged under are

the Prevention of Insults to National Honour (PINH) Act and Section 66A of the

Information Technology (IT) Act. It is clear from the language of these acts

and the judicial precedent, that the test of intent is key in establishing guilt.

The accused must in other words, be found to have used words and

representations with deliberate intent to cause offence.

 

The IFJ learns that the cartoons in question do not

display any clear intent to offend. Rather, they could be interpreted in

substance as holding India’s elected representatives guilty of dishonouring the

national emblems by their acts of corruption and malfeasance.

 

The IFJ Asia Pacific joins affiliates in condemning the

frequent use of the sedition law to imprison and intimidate journalists in

India. In the insurgency affected districts of the eastern state of Orissa

alone, four cases of sedition have been registered against journalists in the

last few years, mostly to clamp down on public-spirited reporting that exposes

serious abuses and deficiencies in local administration.

 

In June 2008, the commissioner of police in Ahmedabad

brought charges of sedition and criminal conspiracy against two journalists and

the local edition of the Times of India,

after the newspaper carried a series of reports about his less than

distinguished service record. Though granted bail and not imprisoned like their

counterparts in Orissa, the journalists were only absolved of all charges in

April this year.

 

“We ask that the authorities in India be mindful of

the established law when invoking the sedition clause and not use it as an

instrument to silence critical voices through the threat of criminal

prosecution” IFJ Asia Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.

 

For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0918

 

The IFJ

represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

 

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