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Congress, BJP criticise arrest of cartoonist for sedition

September 10, 2012 19:10 IST

The Congress on Monday disapproved of the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi on the charge of sedition, saying the action was a bit "over-stretched" and "not called for".

At the same time, the All India Congress Committee advocated for "reasonable restrictions" on freedom of speech and called for respecting the national emblems.

The remarks by AICC spokesperson Manish Tewari came as the party-led government in Maharashtra said it was trying to seek the release of the artist, who has been charged with sedition.

"I have no hesitation in saying that the arrest is a bit too over-stretched. Over reaction is certainly not called for, we are not in favour of arrest," Tewari told reporters at the AICC briefing.

While noting that "a society, which fails to laugh at itself, runs the risk of getting atrophied", he at the same time posed the question "does freedom of speech mean doing everything is fair deal?"

Tewari said there are certain national emblems and symbols that have to be respected by all.

Referring to an arbitration going on in the Supreme Court on freedom of speech, he said, "Perhaps, we have not reached the golden median as yet between where the freedom of expression ends and reasonable restrictions begin. The jury is still out on that."

His remarks came close on the heels of Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni maintaining that United Progressive Alliance government is not in favour of "censorship but self-regulation" by the media.

The Kanpur-based cartoonist was arrested by the Mumbai police on Saturday on the basis of a complaint which alleged that he posted seditious content on his website. The complaint was filed in December by a member of the Republican Party of India.

Tewari said as a complaint was filed, it would have been better had the police filed the charge-sheet and left it to the court to decide instead of arresting and jailing Trivedi.

The Bharatiya Janata Party on Monday alleged that while the UPA government was involved in corruption cases like coal mine allocation scams, it has started attacking democratic institutions and free speech as it has been targeting Washington Post newspaper and cartoonist Aseem Trivedi.

"If an article is written in Washington Post, then a letter is dashed off to it by this government. If a cartoonist, using his right to freedom of speech, expresses his views, then he becomes a danger to national security," BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain said.

Hussain alleged that the government "has become a threat to the people" and failed to live up to their expectations.

BJP alleged that the government remains silent on issues on which it is expected to give answers, including the questions raised by the media.

"The government used to refer to the praise heaped on it by the international media earlier and now when the government is being criticised by them, it is writing letters so that a message is sent across to the Indian media as well that they should not engage in criticism," Hussain said.

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