The Bombay high court on Friday slammed the Mumbai police for arresting cartoonist Aseem Trivedi on "frivolous" grounds and "without application of mind", saying its action breached his freedom of speech and expression.
"How can you (police) arrest people on frivolous grounds? You arrest a cartoonist and breach his liberty of freedom of speech and expression," a division bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and Amjad Sayyed said while hearing a PIL filed by lawyer Sanskar Marathe, claiming Trivedi's arrest was illegal and unjustified.
The Kanpur-based cartoonist, arrested last Saturday on sedition charges, was released two days ago after the high court granted him bail amid mounting public outrage.
Observing that Trivedi's arrest was prima facie "arbitrary", the court said, "We have one Aseem Trivedi who was courageous enough to raise his voice and stand against this, but what about several others whose voices are shut by the police."
Noting that the police would have to satisfy the court as to how the sedition charge was applied against the young cartoonist, the judges said they intended to lay down certain parameters for application of the law of sedition.
"If there are no parameters there will be serious encroachment of a person's liberties guaranteed to him in a civil society," the bench said.
It said the sedition law was a pre-independence provision when the government wanted protection from the citizens.
"What is the government's stand now? Does it intend to drop the charge? Someone has to take political responsibility for this. Why did the police not apply its mind before arresting him on sedition charges," the court wanted to know.
Directing the police to file a comprehensive affidavit by October 12 explaining the grounds on which the charge of sedition was applied, the court said, "Today you attacked a cartoonist, tomorrow you will attack a filmmaker and then a writer. We live in a free society and everyone has freedom of speech and expression."
Additional Public Prosecutor Jayesh Yagnik told the court the concerned assistant commissioner of police probing the case was in a meeting with the law and judiciary department to ascertain maintainability of sedition charge against the cartoonist.
The court added Trivedi as a respondent in the PIL.
Advocate Mihir Desai, appearing for Trivedi, told the court he would file an affidavit seeking to quash the case on the next date of hearing.
Trivedi was arrested on September 8 for allegedly posting seditious content on his website and insulting the national emblem and Parliament.
He was on Monday remanded in judicial custody till September 24, after the police said it no longer required his custody and Trivedi refused to seek bail. The high court granted him bail two days later.
The city police had come under fire from activists and politicians including Bharatiya Janata Party leader L K Advani and Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray over his arrest.