Indian state drops cartoonist’s sedition charge

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Aseem Trivedi's controversial cartoons include one depicting the Indian parliament as a huge toilet bowl (AFP/File, Punit Paranjpe)
Aseem Trivedi’s controversial cartoons include one depicting the Indian parliament as a huge toilet bowl (AFP/File, Punit Paranjpe)

(AFP) – MUMBAI — Indian prosecutors dropped sedition charges Friday against a cartoonist whose arrest over his anti-corruption drawings outraged freedom of speech campaigners, his lawyer said.

Aseem Trivedi, whose online cartoons include the national parliament depicted as a huge toilet bowl, was detained in Mumbai early last month before being released four days later on bail after an outcry from campaigners.

“The sedition charges have been dropped but the other charges continue,” his lawyer Vijay Hiremath told AFP, after western Maharashtra state’s top law officer filed a revised affidavit on Friday to the Bombay High Court.

Trivedi, 25, still faces charges under section 66A of the Information Technology Act and section two of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act.

Advocate general Darius Khambata told the court that after a close look at the issue, there was “clearly no case” under sedition regulations, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

Khambata described police action against Trivedi as a “bonafide knee jerk reaction” to the numerous complaints they received over his cartoons, displayed at an anti-corruption rally last year and online.

But he said three of seven drawings were still found to be in violation of the other acts. “Proceedings in this will continue against him,” Khambata said.

It was not clear which cartoons remain part of the prosecution case, but Trivedi’s works include one of the national emblem with lions replaced by wolves with blood dripping from their teeth, standing on the sign “Corruption alone triumphs” instead of the motto “Truth alone triumphs”.

Another sketch titled “Gang Rape of Mother India” shows a woman draped in the Indian flag being held down by a politician and a bureaucrat, while a horned animal depicting corruption appears ready to attack her.

Earlier this year Trivedi established Save Your Voice, a group lobbying against Internet censorship, while he is also a supporter of India Against Corruption (IAC), the popular anti-graft campaign lead by Anna Hazare.

The arrest of the cartoonist, from northern Uttar Pradesh state, sparked a backlash against Indian authorities, accused by campaigners and rights groups of using British colonial-era sedition laws to silence dissent in the country.

Human Rights Watch was among those calling for the “politically motivated” charges to be dismissed, describing such an arrest as “a hallmark of a dictatorship, not a democracy”.

India in recent months has shown sensitivity to criticism of its leaders and other cartoons have come under fire.

A university professor was arrested in April for allegedly circulating a sketch ridiculing Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal.

In May lawmakers reacted furiously to an old cartoon being used in school textbooks lampooning B.R. Ambedkar, author of India’s constitution.

Trivedi, who is currently taking part in the Indian equivalent of the “Big Brother” reality show, told AFP last week that the case had not deterred him from his political drawings.

“I will keep on with my campaign against corruption, my cartoons and my art,” he said.

“My anger was against corruption. This whole case was just a part of the story.”

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