Drawing a cartoon in India can, sometimes, be regarded a seditious act.
A 25-year old anti-corruption cartoonist, Aseem Trivedi, was charged with sedition and jailed Monday by a Mumbai court until Sept 24.
Trivedi was arrested on Saturday for posting what the police called seditious and obscene cartoons on his Web site and displaying them at a public protest against corruption last December.
Among Trivedi’s offending cartoons is an image of India’s national emblem where he replaces lions with foxes and skull-and-bones. Instead of “Truth Alone Triumphs,” he wrote “Corruption alone Triumphs.” Another cartoon showed an image resembling India’s parliament building, calling it the “national toilet”.
His Web site shut down in December, but the cartoons are now available here.
On Monday, Trivedi said in a written statement that he will not apply for bail or appoint a lawyer because he did not believe in the sedition law.
“He is firm in his mind that he will continue to be jail till this sedition charge is withdrawn,” said Mayank Gandhi, member of the India Against Corruption campaign. “This is going to be a long drawn battle. He is ready for it.”
Trivedi’s arrest is the latest in a series of clampdowns against dissenters across India in recent years, as an increasingly nervous government battles rising public anger over corruption and what many perceive as misrule.
Last month, government officials blocked over 250 Web sites because it claimed they provoked ethnic hate.
Many of the dissenters, including anti-nuclear activists and human rights advocates, have been charged with a colonial-era sedition law. Indians tend to be particularly sensitive tp any insult to ithe national flag, emblem and constitution, but Trivedi’s supporters say that criticizing the government and the corrupt political system is a patriotic act, not treason.
“If telling the truth makes me traitor, then I am one,” Trivedi told reporters on Sunday.
Trivedi was chosen for the 2012 “Courage in Editorial cartooning” award by the Virginia-based Cartoonists Rights Network International. He shares it with the Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, who was beaten by the Syrian government last year.
A person charged with sedition can get life imprisonment, if convicted. Analysts say that sedition charges are often framed to intimidate and incarcerate critics indefinitely, and conviction is rare.
“Instead of trying to silence dissent by wrongly accusing people of sedition, the authorities would do far better addressing the reasons causing concern among citizens,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, which has urged India to repeal the sedition law.
The use of the law occurs despite a 1962 Supreme Court ruling that said that prosecution under this law will requires evidence of incitement to violence.
“There is no evidence that Aseem Trivedi’s drawings have led to violence,” Ganguly added.