The government of the western state of Maharashtra today withdrew the sedition charges it had brought against the well-known cartoonist Aseem Trivedi. Reporters Without Borders welcomes the decision, which it had been demanding since the start of the case (see below).
"We are pleased by this development, which is good news for freedom of expression in India, but we remind the authorities of the need to amend and update the laws on sedition and protection of the national flag," Reporters Without Borders said.
The Mumbai high court had said the sedition charges were "clearly" unjustified.
13/09/2012: Cartoonist released on bail, authorities urged to drop all charges
The cartoonist Aseem Trivedi was released on bail yesterday on the Mumbai high court’s orders after being held for four days on a sedition charge prompted by his portrayal of the national flag in cartoons used in an anti-corruption demonstration and online campaign.
"We hail Trivedi’s release but we call on Maharashtra state home minister R. R. Patel to drop all the charges against him," Reporters Without Borders said.
"The penal code, the national emblem act, the information technology act and the constitution should be used to promote freedom of expression, not as pretexts to suppress it. The laws on sedition and protecting the national flag should be amended and updated."
Trivedi was released from a Mumbai prison a day after agreeing to pay bail of 5,000 rupees (70 euros). He had previously refused to pay bail in an attempt to get the charges withdrawn. The authorities have agreed to reexamine the charges but, in the meantime, Trivedi is still facing the possibility of life imprisonment.
"Although I’m free, the battle will continue," Trivedi said on his release from prison. "Whenever there is an infringement of legal rights, our fight will continue."
10/09/2012 Anti-corruption cartoonist arrested and charged
Reporters Without Borders strongly deplores the arrest of the cartoonist Aseem Trivedi by police in Mumbai state on 8 September. He has been charged with sedition for publishing cartoons on his website criticising government corruption. The organization also calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
“The prosecution and detention of the cartoonist are a gross violation of freedom of expression and information by the Indian authorities,” the organization said.
The arrest followed a complaint lodged against Trivedi on 30 January this year under the Indian Penal Code, the National emblem Act and the Information Technology Act, after demonstrators waved his cartoons during an anti-corruption protest in Mumbai last year.
The artist went underground after learning that a warrant for his arrest had been issued. However, the security forces discovered approximately two weeks ago that he was in hiding in Unnao district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.
A Mumbai court ruled yesterday that he should be remanded without bail until 16 September for offences under sedition and information technology laws.
His lawyer, Mahesh Jethmalani, said: “His arrest is absurd and a curb on freedom of expression."
Trivedi himself was unrepentant. “If telling the truth makes me a traitor, then I am one," he said outside the court, adding : "If I am booked under sedition for doing service to the nation then I will continue to do so."
Reporters Without Borders notes that last month the Indian authorities stepped up Internet censorship in response to inter-ethnic violence, ordering Internet Service Providers to block access to more 300 online locations.
India is listed among countries “under surveillance” in the latest Reporters Without Borders report on Internet Enemies, published in March this year.