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
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.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +612 9333 0918
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