PUDR statement on the arrest of Aseem Trivedi on sedition charges

September 11, 2012

In India, sedition charges have been flying thick and fast, and Aseem Trivedi is only the latest of thousands of people arrested and incarcerated for sedition.

For the ‘crime’ of political cartooning, Aseem Trivedi has been arrested, slapped with a number of charges, including sedition, and given seven days of police custody on a non-bailable warrant. PUDR has always maintained that the draconian sedition law is a tool to deny the citizens of this country their fundamental right to free speech and expression, and is continuously used by the state to quell all political criticism and dissent. Trivedi’s arrest is a case in point. The eagerness of the police to arrest and demand custody, and the alacrity of the lower court to hand out a non-bailable warrant are typical in ‘sedition’ cases.

Indeed, the law gives the government and the police immense and unaccountable powers to arrest and endlessly detain people accused of sedition as undertrials. Throughout the country, thousands of people have been charged with sedition for as arbitrary and trivial reasons as Trivedi’s. India’s prisons are teeming with alleged Maoists and Muslims accused of terror activities, who are charged with draconian laws like sedition and the UAPA. Even if they are eventually acquitted, they end up serving a de-facto prison sentence simply because the mere accusation of sedition leads to lower courts across the country to deny them bail for years.

Aseem Trivedi has denied legal assistance to force the lower judiciary to rethink its knee-jerk judgment. Faced with a media outcry, the police and the government seem to be back-pedaling and looking for a face-saving formula. Not all prisoners charged with sedition are as fortunate. Bereft of media attention and often belonging to disadvantaged sections of society, many continue to spend years as undertrials, particularly if the state considers their opinion or politics to be dangerous.

Charges of sedition for a cartoon would have been laughable in a just world. But, Aseem Trivedi’s wrongful incarceration, like the incarceration of hundreds of political activists, is very real. PUDR believes that as long as the crime of sedition can be invoked, the freedom of speech and expression and the right to dissent in this country are continuously under threat.

PUDR demands the immediate withdrawal of all charges not just against Aseem Trivedi, but against all prisoners incarcerated under the draconian and archaic sedition law. The sedition law goes counter to the basic principles of democracy and PUDR demands its immediate repeal.

Preeti Chauhan, Paramjeet Singh
Secretaries, PUDR