Mumbai: Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, who was arrested over the weekend, has been granted bail by the Bombay High Court. He is currently at the Arthur Road jail in Mumbai. Mr Trivedi has said that he would not apply for bail till sedition charges against him are dropped. His bail was granted with a personal bond of Rs. 5000 on the basis of an independent petition by a lawyer, who also asked the court to remove the accusations of sedition – the court said it will decide that on September 17.
“My son has not committed any crime , so let’s not talk of accepting bail with a personal bond and conditions, all charges should be withdrawn against him and he should be released,” said Ashok Trivedi, the cartoonist’s father.
The arrest of the 25-year-old cartoonist has provoked criticism at home and attention abroad with suggestions that it illustrates the government’s increasing intolerance of dissent. “We are taking legal opinion. We will decide on the charges against Aseem Trivedi soon. We will ensure he is not charged wrongly,” said state Home Minister R R Patil this evening.
Arvind Kejriwal and other anti-graft activists had threatened to start a protest outside the Arthur Road jail on Saturday if the accusations of sedition are not removed. Mr Kejriwal visited Mr Trivedi this morning and said,” MPs who disrespect the national emblem… official papers have national emblems printed on them … they commit corruption and should be booked for sedition.”
Mr Trivedi’s supporters allege that he is being targeted by the government for supporting the anti-corruption movement championed by 74-year-old Anna Hazare and Mr Kejriwal.
The long-haired and bearded cartoonist has gone from little known to trending in a matter of days. His arrest is based on the complaint of a Mumbai lawyer who took umbrage at Mr Trivedi’s anti-corruption cartoons, especially one that re-interpreted the Ashok Chakra national emblem – wolves replaced the three lions to show ravenous corruption. He has said, “If telling the truth makes me a traitor then I am one.”
The Mumbai Police tried to reverse out of the controversy on Monday, telling a local court that they were done with questioning him and were surrendering custody. Mr Trivedi has been charged with allegedly uploading “ugly and obscene” matter on his web portal and putting up objectionable banners insulting the Indian Constitution during an Anna Hazare protest in Mumbai last year.
The government, on the back foot, has said people cannot be allowed to “cross the line.” Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni said, “We are not against democratic rights, we are all for free speech… people have made cartoons of Nehru, Indira earlier. But there is a thin line you draw between free speech and what can be termed as offensive especially against national symbols.”