The arrest of freelance cartoonist and free-speech activist Aseem Trivedi on charges that his cartoons were derogatory to the Indian constitution has sparked widespread furor in India.
The Kanpur-based artist voluntarily surrendered to a Mumbai police station Saturday after a local court charged him with sedition on the alleged grounds that the banners he put up during an anti-corruption rally in Mumbai last year, which were also uploaded on his website, mocked the constitution.
Trivedi was arrested under IPC Section 124 (sedition), section 66 A of the Information Technology Act and section 2 of the Prevention of Insults to Nation Honor Act, following the complaint filed by a member of the Republican Party of India and lawyer, Amit Katarnayea, the Indian media reported.
The complainant claimed that Trivedi's interpretation of the national emblem of India, replacing the lions with wolves signifying widespread ministerial level corruption, unconstitutional and objectionable.
"If telling the truth makes me a traitor then I am one," Trivedi was quoted as saying by the NDTV.
However, unconfirmed reports Tuesday said that the Maharashtra state government was planning to drop the sedition charges against Trivedi after his arrest provoked angry criticism across the board.
The 25-year-old cartoonist has refused to apply for bail demanding the authorities to lift the charges leveled against him.
India's ruling Congress party has distanced itself from the arrest with Union Minister for Information and Broadcasting Ambika Soni saying that the government had "no problems" with Trivedi's cartoons.
The Congress disapproved of Trivedi's arrest, saying the action was a bit "over-stretched" and "not called for."
Maharashtra Home Minister R.R. Patil of the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) claimed his department was not involved in the case and assured that the state government would arrange for Trivedi's release.
The Hindu editorial of Tuesday, titled "Sedition? Seriously?," said: "The latest victim of this anachronistic colonial era law (124-A of the Indian Penal Code), 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."
"Take again Section 124-A of the Indian Penal Code," the commentary quoted India's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as having said during a parliamentary debate centered around freedom of speech in 1951. "Now as far as I am concerned that particular Section is highly objectionable and obnoxious and it should have no place...in any body of laws that we might pass. The sooner we get rid of it the better."
The Times of India said in a column that in independent India "instead of being revoked, the sedition law has been used against a variety of dissent," citing the earlier case of civil rights activist Binayak Sen who had been sentenced to life imprisonment on charges of sedition before the Supreme Court released him on bail due to lack of evidence against him.