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Arrest of 'toilet' cartoonist triggers free speech debate in India

By Harmeet Shah Singh, CNN
updated 5:43 AM EDT, Tue September 11, 2012
Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, who has been arrested on sedition charges, raises his hand outside the Metropolitan Magistrate court in Mumbai on Monday
Indian cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, who has been arrested on sedition charges, raises his hand outside the Metropolitan Magistrate court in Mumbai on Monday
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Indian cartoonist arrested on sedition charges
  • Cartoons attacked corruption in India's political system, depicting parliament as toilet
  • Case has triggered a debate on free speech
  • Government says cartoons should not mock national symbols

New Delhi (CNN) -- An Indian cartoonist sent to jail to await trial for sedition has refused to seek bail until the charges are dropped, his attorney said on Tuesday.

Vijay Hiremath told CNN that his client Aseem Trivedi had been remanded in custody until September 24 by a Mumbai court following his arrest over the weekend.

The case hinges on a complaint about cartoons published during anti-corruption protests last year.

Trivedi's cartoons attacked perceived corruption in India's political system, with one of them depicting three lions in India's national emblem as wolves and another showing parliament as a toilet, Hiremath said.

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He was also charged with insulting national honor and authorities have blocked Trivedi's website, which carried the cartoons, Hiremath added.

If convicted, he could be jailed for life.

The case has sparked a fierce debate over free speech in the world's largest democracy.

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"These charges are nonsense. They are stupid. They are just (there) because of the intolerance of some people. They should be dismissed as frivolous," said Markandey Katju, the chief of the Press Council of India.

In its editorial Tuesday, one of India's most respected dailies, The Hindu, criticized the country's sedition law that dates back to British rule.

"The latest victim of this anachronistic colonial-era law, for which the maximum punishment is life imprisonment, is a young cartoonist, arrested for no more than lampooning the corrupt and venal state of affairs in the country," it said.

"...the sedition clause not only remains on the statute book but is used periodically against human rights activists, journalists and intellectuals."

Trivedi has remained defiant in the face of the sedition charges.

"I am against this law. I have pride in what I have done and will keep doing it. This is a fight for a second independence," he shouted to reporters as a police van transported him away on Monday.

India's information and broadcasting minister, Ambika Soni, said the government did not believe in censorship and called on the media to practice "self regulation."

"I don't think making cartoons is wrong...But they (cartoonists) should not make national symbols as their subject," the minister said.

More: Police detain Indian corruption activist

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