“A wrongful arrest is a serious crime and those who arrested him should be held”

The media joined hands to condemn the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi on Sunday, with the Press Council of India chairperson Markandey Katju calling for the Mumbai Police officials who carried out the “wrongful arrest” to be put on trial themselves.

“From the information I have gathered, the cartoonist did nothing illegal, and in fact, arresting him was an illegal act. A wrongful arrest is a serious crime under the Indian Penal Code Section 342, and it is those who arrested him who should be arrested,” he told The Hindu. “Police officers, who obey such illegal orders of politicians, should be put on trial and given harsh punishment, just like the Nazi officials at the Nuremberg War Crime Tribunal,” he added.

The former Supreme Court judge questioned how the drawing of a cartoon could possibly be considered a crime, and suggested that politicians should learn to accept criticism. “Either the allegation is true, in which case you deserve it; or it is false, in which case, you ignore it. This kind of behaviour is not acceptable in a democracy,” he said.

Asked if the Press Council would take any action, Justice Katju pointed out that its mandate only includes the print media, despite his repeated recent requests to include electronic and social media.

Website blocked last year

While the cartoonist’s arrest was being condemned by several mainstream media outlets on Sunday evening, television channels are apparently following the directive of the News Broadcasters Association — which seems to have been issued last year when Mr. Trivedi’s website was blocked by police request — that the cartoons were derogatory and should not be shown.

“My own sense is that reproducing the cartoons as an act of defiance and solidarity is fine so long as there is no denigration of national symbols… The law can be a two-edged sword,” said CNN-IBN Editor-in-chief Rajdeep Sardesai. “I find it amusing, but also very dangerous that you can get away with hate speech in this country, but parody and political satire leads to immediate arrest. Why don’t they go after those who incite violence?”

Why sedition charge, asks cartoonist Unny

The Indian Express chief political cartoonist E.P. Unny said, “Cartoonists are being dragged into the limelight for all the wrong reasons these days” and wondered why cartoons should be considered seditious. “You can disagree with a cartoon, just as you can disagree with any textual matter. You may not like it, you may find it tasteless. But what is the link between an offensive cartoon and sedition? That is a very serious affair,” he said.

Fellow cartoonists across the world are also standing up for Mr. Trivedi’s rights. The Indian cartoonist is this year’s winner of Cartoonists Rights Network International’s (CRNI) Award for Courage in Editorial Cartooning to be given at the annual convention of the Association of American Editorial Cartoonists in Washington, DC on September 15. “That a government moves to arrest an anti-corruption free speech advocate on what is sure to be revealed as flimsy grounds, speaks volumes for the inability or unwillingness of the Indian government to even-handedly administer its own Constitution,” said CRNI Executive Director Robert Russell.

Mr. Trivedi’s name was trending on Twitter all through Sunday evening, as hundreds of online fans came out in support of the web cartoonist.

“‘Sedition is the highest moral duty of a citizen.’ – M.K. Gandhi who said those words would be proud of #AseemTrivedi,” tweeted online journalist Shivam Vij. “What #AseemTrivedi drew on a paper, millions draw on their hearts daily after suffering from issues like corruption. Arrest them all!” said Sakshi Sharma.

Mr. Trivedi’s cartoons had been widely used by Team Anna activists in the India Against Corruption campaign, and Arvind Kejriwal also took to Twitter to voice his support. “Cartoons cud be in bad taste but is that ‘sedition’? Can someone be arrested for that? We fully support Aseem and criticize Govt action,” he said.

Several Twitterati immediately adopted a Trivedi cartoon as their Twitter icon, including actor Sonam Kapoor, who tweeted: “If this is the present state of our country I’m petrified for our future.”

Others voiced their opposition. “Just like corruption is not cool, anti India sentiments are not cool either,” said Nyktrivedi. “Should we blame the Indian Constitution if its implementers are corrupt? Freedom of Expression is given for a purpose, to be used with responsibility. Should not become a mockery tool,” a user posted with the twitter handle babasaheb_org.

Like him or not, the arrest has merely whipped up extra attention for the cartoonist. “Now that he is arrested. Those of us who hadn’t heard of him are laughing at his cartoons. Hopefully, now his cartoons will get world wide circulation,” said Rita Pal.