Mumbai: Kanpur-based cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, arrested by the cyber crime cell of Mumbai police on charge of sedition, was produced before a magistrate on Sunday and remanded to police custody until 16 September.

Trivedi, a freelancer, surrendered before Mumbai police at the Bandra Kurla Complex (BKC) police station on Saturday after he came to know that an arrest warrant had been issued against him by a Mumbai court.

He has been booked under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code, which deals with sedition, sections of the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act and the Information Technology Act.

In custody: Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi during his arrest. The police acted on a complaint by Mumbai-based lawyer Amit Khatanavera in December last year. Photo: Vijayananda Gupta/HT

The police acted on a complaint by Mumbai-based lawyer Amit Khatanavera in December last year. Khatanavera is an activist of the Republican Party of India and in his complaint he alleged that Trivedi, who is closely associated with the India Against Corruption campaign, displayed cartoons mocking the Indian Constitution.

A crime branch officer of Mumbai police said Trivedi had in one cartoon depicted four wolves in place of the lions on the national emblem, the Ashoka pillar, blood in the mouth of the beasts and the caption read Bhrashtameva Jayate (corruption shall prevail) instead of Satyameva Jayate (truth shall prevail). The officer didn’t want to be named.

Alok Dixit, a friend of Trivedi who is also an activist of the India Against Corruption campaign, said Trivedi hadn’t been able to get a lawyer so the court accepted the police’s request for eight days of police custody and remanded him until 16 September.

Dixit said both Trivedi and he had been supporting the campaign led by social activist Anna Hazare, “and it seems government’s action against Aseem is motivated".

Former Indian police service officer and lawyer Y.P. Singh said he hadn’t seen the cartoons drawn by Trivedi, “but from what I have heard, it seems he can be booked at the most under Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act and not on serious charges like sedition, which attract much harsher punishment".

Ram Rahman, a photographer and activist, said: “I think the most dangerous aspect of this case is that a magistrate can register a case on an individual’s complaint anywhere in India. The onus of proving your intent and innocence is then incumbent on the person charged. This is a gross misuse of the law. While I had many criticisms of the entire Anna Hazare movement and the cartoons in question may not be profound, a charge of sedition against the cartoonist is outrageous."

Many messages posted on micro-blogging website Twitter criticized the cartoonist’s arrest in what became one of the top tweeting trends in the country over the 24 hours since his arrest. Social media expert Mahesh Murthy expressed his views on twitter saying, “How is Aseem Trivedi’s cartoon of 4 wolves & Bhrashtameva Jayate sedition? It’s corrupt politicos that insult the symbol."

A petition titled “Release Cartoonist Aseem Trivedi" is being hosted by change.org, a prominent website that hosts petitions for social causes. So far, 842 people have signed the petition addressed to R.R. Patil, Maharashtra’s home minister.

“No freedom is absolute," said Rajdeep Sardesai, editor-in-chief of IBN18 Network. “However, to arrest someone for what seems on the surface as political satire, is clearly deplorable and unfortunate. If people get arrested in this country for political satire and people can get away with hate speech, this is dangerous."

Sudhir Tailang, a cartoonist with Asian Age said on Twitter, “Sedition!? A cartoon scares you so much? Come on, grow up! At 65, show some maturity. We are the largest democracy. Freedom of expression is our fundamental right. Show some respect to the makers of our constitution. Only an insecure and weak govt can resort to such draconian acts."

Arun Ramkumar, a Chennai-based freelance cartoonist, said Trivedi’s arrest was an attempt to gag cartoonists, drawing a parallel with West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee’s tirade against an academic who had forwarded by email, cartoons depicting her.

“Any open criticism against mistakes made by the government should be dealt with more responsibly," he said. “These are silly and extreme ways to deal with such situations."

Suneera Tandon and Vidhi Choudhary in New Delhi contributed to this story.

makarand.g@livemint.com

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