Dubbing the arrest of cartoonist Aseem Trivedi on the charge of sedition as "arbitrary" and on "frivolous" grounds, the Bombay High Court today said it breached his freedom of speech and expression.
The court also said it intended to lay down guidelines for application of the pre-Independence law to ensure that liberties guaranteed to citizens in a civil society are not encroached.
"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, voicing strong displeasure over the arrest of Kanpur-based cartoonist whom it had granted bail two days back.
The Kanpur-based cartoonist, arrested last Saturday, was released on Monday after the high court granted him bail amid mounting public outcry.
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 police."
The court was hearing a PIL filed by a lawyer Sanskar Marathe against Trivedi's arrest, which he described as "illegal, bad in law, and unjustified".
Noting that the law governing sedition was a pre- Independence provision in the statute book when government wanted protection from citizens, the bench said it intended to lay "parameters" for its application to check misuse.
"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.
Demanding that the police satisfy the court regarding the justification for applying the provisions of section 124 A of IPC relating to sedition in Trivedi's case, the court asked the police to file a comprehensive affidavit by October 12 detailing reasons for its application.
"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," the court observed.
"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.
Appearing for the government facing criticism over Trivedi's arrest, additional public prosecutor Jayesh Yagnik told the court the 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 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 on the basis of a complaint filed in December by a member of Republican Party of India Amit Katarnayea, who had alleged that the latter had put up banners mocking the Constitution during Anna Hazare's rally held last year at the Bandra Kurla Complex. It was also alleged that he had put obscene content on his website.
He was on Monday remanded in judicial custody till September 24, after police said they no longer required his custody and Trivedi refused to seek bail. However, the high court granted him bail while hearing Marathe's PIL two days later.
The city police had come under fire over Trivedi's arrest from activists and politicians including BJP leader L K Advani, who equated it with conditions reminiscent of Emergency.