NEW: Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivedi leaves jail on bail
Trivedi had originally refused to apply for bail, wanted sedition charge dropped
Cartoons attacked perceived corruption in India's political system
HRW urged authorities to drop the charges and repeal the law
An Indian cartoonist charged with sedition over images critical of the government has been released on bail, his lawyer said Wednesday.
Aseem Trivedi had originally refused to seek bail and wanted the charges dropped, but changed his mind after receiving assurances from authorities that they would be reviewed, Vijay Hiremath said.
In comments after his release, televised from outside the jailhouse, the satirist vowed to continue his campaign against the country’s colonial-era law on sedition.
“This fight will continue until 124A is repealed,” he said, holding a microphone.
Arrest of ‘toilet’ cartoonist triggers free speech debate in India
He was referring to section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which was introduced by the British colonial government in 1860. The law prohibits “words either spoken or written, or by signs or visible representation” that attempts to cause “hatred or contempt, or excites or attempts to excite disaffection,” toward the government.
Trivedi then thanked his supporters for rallying around him after his arrest triggered a debate over free speech in the world’s largest democracy.
The case against the cartoonist hinges on a complaint about drawings published during anti-corruption protests last year.
Trivedi’s cartoons attacked perceived corruption in India’s political system, with one of them depicting three lions in India’s national emblem as wolves and another showing parliament as a toilet, Hiremath said.
But Trivedi insisted his cartoons were in fact inspired by patriotism. “I didn’t commit crime,” he told reporters. “The government has to answer why I was charged with sedition.”
But a Mumbai court granted Trivedi bail after someone else filed a public-interest petition seeking his release, Hiremath said.
The cartoonist is also facing a charge of insulting national honor and authorities have blocked his website, which carried the cartoons, Hiremath added.
If convicted, he could be jailed for life – a situation that has incensed many in India.
“These charges are nonsense. They are stupid. They are just (there) because of the intolerance of some people. They should be dismissed as frivolous,” said Markandey Katju, the chief of the Press Council of India.
Human Rights Watch has urged Indian authorities to immediately drop the charges and repeal the sedition law, which it alleged was being used to “silence peaceful dissent.”
In 1962, India’s Supreme Court ruled that the section 124A was constitutionally valid, but said that its application should be limited to acts “involving intention or tendency to create disorder, or disturbance of law and order, or incitement to violence.”
“Indian authorities have unlawfully charged individuals with sedition on repeated occasions for peaceful political purposes contrary to explicit directives of the Supreme Court,” said Meenakshi Ganguly of HRW.
“The obvious abuse of the sedition law to silence Trivedi should be the case that prompts the abolition of this law.”
In its editorial Tuesday, one of India’s most respected dailies, The Hindu, also criticized the law.
“The latest victim of this anachronistic colonial-era law, for which the maximum punishment is life imprisonment, is a young cartoonist, arrested for no more than lampooning the corrupt and venal state of affairs in the country,” it said.
“…the sedition clause not only remains on the statute book but is used periodically against human rights activists, journalists and intellectuals.”