MUMBAI, India (Reuters) - A cartoonist detained on sedition charges for drawings that satirise corruption in politics was released on bail on Wednesday, cheered by hundreds of free speech activists as he left Mumbai’s main jail.
Aseem Trivedi was arrested on Sunday after a private complaint over a series of cartoons, including one that depicts the parliament building as a lavatory buzzing with flies. (link.reuters.com/wyt52t)
His arrest rekindled debate on freedom of speech weeks after a clampdown on Twitter in the world’s largest democracy.
He instantly became a cause celebre among anti-corruption and free speech activists who complain India’s corruption-plagued government is increasingly intolerant of criticism.
Trivedi originally refused to seek bail demanding the charges be dropped, but accepted the Mumbai High Court’s bail grant of 5,000 Indian rupees on Wednesday.
“Can we speak freely in this country or not? Or are we still living under the British rule?,” asked a tousle-haired and bearded Trivedi, triumphantly raising his clenched fist to a cheering crowd of supporters after his release.
Nationalist heroes such as Mahatma Gandhi were frequently charged with sedition in their campaign for independence from Britain.
Last month, the government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh temporarily blocked access to a number of Twitter accounts including several spoof accounts imitating the prime minister. The government has also responded angrily to articles by the foreign media criticising Singh’s record on tackling corruption.
In April, police arrested professor Ambikesh Mahapatra in Kolkata for allegedly sharing by email cartoons that ridiculed Mamata Banerjee, the chief minister of West Bengal. Mahapatra was later released.
Reporting by Annie Banerji in New Delhi; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Jeremy Laurence