Mumbai: The Bombay High Court on Wednesday granted bail to cartoonist Aseem Trivedi, who is facing a sedition case, saying if drawing cartoons was the only allegation against him, then his custody was not required.
A division bench of Chief Justice Mohit Shah and Justice Nitin Jamdar directed Trivedi to be released on execution of a personal bail-bond of Rs 5,000.
The bail order was passed by the bench on a public interest litigation by city-based lawyer Sanskar Marathe who sought Trivedi`s release contending his arrest was "illegal, bad in law, and unjustified".
Earlier in the day, the HC granted an hour`s time to the state government to seek instructions from higher police officials as to why the government should oppose the bail.
Additional Public Prosecutor Purnima Kantharia later told the court that officers were in a meeting with the Chief Minister and were not immediately available.
She also argued that the High Court had no "locus" (jurisdiction) to grant bail and if the accused wished, he could move the magistrate`s court. Also, the probe in the case was on, she had said.
The bench, however, refused to accept her argument and said "he can be released on a personal bond. If drawing those cartoons is the only charge, then his custody is not required."
The court posted the PIL for further hearing on September 17 to decide whether sedition charge was applicable. The police were directed to file their reply before it.
Trivedi is at present in judicial custody, lodged at Arthur Road jail in central Mumbai.
Marathe`s PIL contends Trivedi`s cartoons cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be said to attract the serious charge of sedition.
"The right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 (1) (g) of the Indian Constitution will be under a serious threat if social activists and cartoonists are arrested on sedition charges," the petition states.
Trivedi was arrested on Saturday for allegedly depicting the national emblem and Parliament in bad light in his cartoons. The Mumbai police have come under flak for this action from several quarters.
Trivedi will come out of jail tomorrow at around 3 pm, India Against Corruption (IAC) member Mayank Gandhi told reporters outside the prison.
Gandhi, who met the cartoonist in the jail, said the prison authorities have received the court order related to bail.
The Kanpur-based artist was initially reluctant to come out of jail unless all charges levelled against him are dropped, the IAC member said.
However, since State Home Minister R R Patil has promised to get the sedition charge dropped and to show respect to the court Trivedi has decided to come out of jail, Gandhi said.