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Call for Discharge of Indian Cartoonist on Sedition Charge

September 11, 2012

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.

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries

Find the IFJ on Twitter: @ifjasiapacific

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