Tuesday, September 11

Arrest of Indian political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi: Is India's government turning Stalinist? (UPDATED)

India's burgeoning middle class is mad as hell about rampant corruption in the government and they won't take it anymore. So now, it seems, the government wants everyone to shut up, and if they don't --

Indian policemen escort political cartoonist Aseem Trivedi to court in Mumbai, India
September 10, 2012 (Photo: Rafiq Maqbool/AP)

See my 9/13 post, Aseem Trivedi and the death of free speech in California's universities 
On August 24, during our discussion about the unexplained disappearance of the blog and Twitter page of an anonymous Pakistani social critic "Majorly Profound," Indian social critic Rajeev Srinivasan told me that the Indian government was censoring Twitter and taking similar censorship actions. A few days later I asked whether he believed the censorship was recent and if so whether this would indicate simply that his government was responding to the cyberwar that'd been directed at India, which had touched off rioting around that time and cost lives. Below is his reply, which he gave me permission to publish. I've removed one part of his reference to the rioting because it would be confusing to anyone who hasn't followed the situation. One caveat:  Rajeev thinks Pakistan's government shut down Majorly Profound; while that's unfortunately the best guess there's no way to say for sure what happened.
it's a recent thing -- the government has shut down 309 sites, and handles of political opponents on twitter. this is neither productive nor justified.

it has also limited the number of SMS's a day to five, which at least has the ostensible rationale that it was muslim fundamentalists sending thousands of threatening SMS to northeasterners that caused panic and an exodus from bangalore and other cities.
the govt, in true stalinist style, has targeted such critics as @barbarindian, who is almost as sharp-witted as @majorlyprofound, but who has never tweeted anything outside the realm of legitimate political dissent. so, for the same sin of poking fun at pompous poo-bahs, both these worthies have been shut down. but the indian govt is so inept that @barbarindian's tweets can be read simply by using an app rather than going to the twitter page :-)

they are threatening to shut twitter down altogether.

just one more step towards a stalinist police state. does not look good.
Then on September 4, The Washington Post's New Delhi correspondent, Simon Denyer, published a very negative profile of India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh (India's silent prime minister becomes a tragic figure) that caused shock waves in India and capitals around the world, including Washington. The profile didn't present anything about the PM that was news to Indians but the fact that the highly critical analysis went global was hugely embarrassing to Manmohan and his political party. Here are a few excerpts to convey how hard-hitting Denyer's report is:
But the image of the scrupulously honorable, humble and intellectual technocrat has slowly given way to a completely different one: a dithering, ineffectual bureaucrat presiding over a deeply corrupt government.

Every day for the past two weeks, India’s Parliament has been adjourned as the opposition bays for Singh’s resignation over allegations of waste and corruption in the allocation of coal-mining concessions.
Under Singh, economic reforms have stalled, growth has slowed sharply and the rupee has collapsed. But just as damaging to his reputation is the accusation that he looked the other way and remained silent as his cabinet colleagues filled their own pockets.
After the report was published the Prime Minister's office sent a letter to Denyer accusing him of unethical and unprofessional conduct for not asking to interview Manmohan for the report. The Post published the letter and Denyer's reply, which was that he'd made repeated requests for an interview that were never acknowledged. A September 5 report from Indian intelligence analyst B Raman's backed up Denyer's side of the story and took the government to task for its poor communications strategy.

Five days later, on September 10, the Washington Post published Rama Lakshmi's chilling report that an Indian political cartoonist who focused on the Indian government's corruption had been arrested -- for cartoons he'd drawn in December of last year:
Drawing a cartoon in India can, sometimes, be regarded a seditious act.

A 25-year old anti-corruption cartoonist, Aseem Trivedi, was charged with sedition and jailed Monday by a Mumbai court until Sept 24.

Trivedi was arrested on Saturday for posting what the police called seditious and obscene cartoons on his Web site and displaying them at a public protest against corruption last December.

Among Trivedi’s offending cartoons is an image of India’s national emblem where he replaces lions with foxes and skull-and-bones. Instead of “Truth Alone Triumphs,” he wrote “Corruption alone Triumphs.” Another cartoon showed an image resembling India’s parliament building, calling it the “national toilet”.

His Web site shut down in December, but the cartoons are now available here.

On Monday, Trivedi said in a written statement that he will not apply for bail or appoint a lawyer because he did not believe in the sedition law.

“He is firm in his mind that he will continue to be [in] jail till this sedition charge is withdrawn,” said Mayank Gandhi, member of the India Against Corruption campaign. “This is going to be a long drawn battle. He is ready for it.”

Trivedi’s arrest is the latest in a series of clampdowns against dissenters across India in recent years, as an increasingly nervous government battles rising public anger over corruption and what many perceive as misrule.

Last month, government officials blocked over 250 Web sites because it claimed they provoked ethnic hate. Many of the dissenters, including anti-nuclear activists and human rights advocates, have been charged with a colonial-era sedition law. Indians tend to be particularly sensitive to any insult to the national flag, emblem and constitution, but Trivedi’s supporters say that criticizing the government and the corrupt political system is a patriotic act, not treason.

“If telling the truth makes me traitor, then I am one,” Trivedi told reporters on Sunday.

Trivedi was chosen for the 2012 “Courage in Editorial cartooning” award by the Virginia-based Cartoonists Rights Network International. He shares it with the Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, who was beaten by the Syrian government last year.

A person charged with sedition can get life imprisonment, if convicted. Analysts say that sedition charges are often framed to intimidate and incarcerate critics indefinitely, and conviction is rare.

“Instead of trying to silence dissent by wrongly accusing people of sedition, the authorities would do far better addressing the reasons causing concern among citizens,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, the South Asia director of Human Rights Watch, which has urged India to repeal the sedition law.

The use of the law occurs despite a 1962 Supreme Court ruling that said that prosecution under this law will requires evidence of incitement to violence.

“There is no evidence that Aseem Trivedi’s drawings have led to violence,” Ganguly added.
When I clicked on the link in the above Post report about the blocked websites it brought up another Washington Post report by Rama Lakshmi, dated August 1, which gave me the creeps when I read it. Brought back memories of what I learned in late 2007 about Canada's draconian Section 13 law limiting free speech. In those days Mark Steyn and other Canadian free-speech defenders were hurling onto the internet every bit of bad news they could find about how fast what was left of free speech around the world was eroding.  From the Post report, headlined India's new Internet rules criticized
NEW DELHI — New Internet rules that seek to enhance national security and limit offensive content have sparked an angry debate about free speech in the world’s largest democracy. The regulations prohibit Web sites and service providers from hosting information that could be regarded as “harmful,” “blasphemous” or “insulting” to any other nation, among other things.
The news from India gets worse as the report goes along.  Yuppers, looks to me as if the whole world is turning into Singapore -- Disneyland with the death penalty, as one wit called it.

Let's see, what other cheer can I spread on this lovely September 11?  Ah well, where there's life there's hope, eh?   Aseem Trivedi is young, he's strong, he's ready to fight and he's got his priorities straight -- priorities well said little more than a year ago by Mark Steyn in an essay he wrote about freedom of speech. From the final paragraphs:
As John Milton wrote in his Areopagitica of 1644, "Give me the liberty to know, to utter, and to argue freely according to conscience, above all liberties."

Or as an ordinary Canadian citizen said to me, after I testified in defense of free speech to the Ontario parliament at Queen's Park, "Give me the right to free speech, and I will use it to claim all my other rights."

Conversely, if you let them take your right to free speech, how are you going to stop them from taking all the others?


Madhu said...

"Mr. Trivedi told journalists after his release: “It was not my individual fight. It was the fight of every Indian.” The law barring sedition, section 124(a) of India’s Penal Code, should be removed, he said. “Our fight will continue till then.”

Mr. Trivedi said that this law was used against people like Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. “Were they all traitors?” he asked. “No, they all were freedom fighters.”

His case will be heard in the Mumbai High Court later this month." - from the NYT

Inept babus, can't even do proper repression.

Doesn't sound Stalinist, sounds typical of a certain type of inept Indian bureaucratese and the related poor governance....

Pundita said...

Madhu let me get my bearings before I answer. I just woke up, I was up until 3 looking for breaking news. The first email I saw was that Christopher was dead. So Trivedi will have to wait. This crazy war. Before i sign off, I meant to tell you I replied to Gentile over at Zenpundit. At first I wasn't going to because it was like trying to talk to Baghdad Bob. But just to let you know in case you missed it

Madhu said...

No worries, Pundita.

I'm reading and absorbing regarding events in Libya and Egypt. I have nothing to say at this time (nothing informed or interesting) and the information is sketchy and early-going, anyway.

Col. Gentile is awesome on the COINTra stuff, but I've confronted him about the mixed up "core objectives" in AfPak before, and, perhaps being military, he focuses on the "inside" Afghanistan stuff. Perhaps a better campaign might have mitigated other factors, but we won't know now. Can't go back in time.

*One comment on all of this, I normally learn much from Praveen Swami, but in his latest column he says that we are paying the price for not engaging in a "global nation building" excercise, or some such.

Just like Ahmed Rashid and his Marshall Plan for the region.

That's the problem, isn't it? Some people are good at diagnosing things, some at cures, but the two rarely come together. Pity. What would cause him to utter such nonsense?

bdoran said...

Good heavens! That cop behind has a Sterling sub-machine gun.

Where were they at Mumbai? Lee-Enfield SMELLEs don't cut it anymore.

Pundita said...

B - LOL why I am laughing it's not funny. You know there's a lot of fragging going on in the Indian army because of low pay, corruption, and lousy equipment. And the police forces are completely ungunned by the terrorists and the criminals. That's how the attackers in the 2008 attack on Mumbai got away with so much before they were taken down. A cop would be up against an attacker packing an AK47 and all the cop had was a colonial-era rifle -- that jammed.

Madhu -- Yeah, you nailed it. But I have no idea what Praveen is smoking these days -- oh and by the way I suppose you know he was denied a visa for the recent high level talks between India's gov and Pak gov in Pakista. Rediff reporters passed muster and so did several others but the Paks didn't want him there.

charles said...


Pundita said...

Charles -- stay tuned for my next post on Trivedi, coming up within the hour

mayura said...

What can be more harmful to the state symbol than the Governer of Andhra Pradesh using the Raj Bhavan (official residence of the governer) to gang bang girls his grand daughters age....he goes Scott free but a cartoonist is jailed...