The arrest of an anti-corruption cartoonist in India on charges of sedition has sparked criticism. Aseem Trivedi is being held in the city of Mumbai for his cartoons allegedly mocking the Indian constitution. He was also charged with insulting the national flag and remanded into police custody until 16 September.
India's media and prominent citizens have condemned Mr Trivedi's arrest, calling it a "wrongful act". Sedition is a non-bailable offence in India. Assad was also charged under the IT Act and the 1971 National Emblem Act.
Update: The Bombay High Court says that Aseem Trivedi can be released on bail if he pays 5,000 rupees ($90; £67). Trivedi has said he will not hire a lawyer or apply for bail himself until the charges are dropped. ;)
Earlier, the website carrying Aseem Trivedi's anti-corruption cartoons were banned by the police in Mumbai. Aseem Trivedi is a co- recipient of this year Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award, along with Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat . HostJury wrote an earlier post about Syrian cartoonist Ali Ferzat, who was abducted and badly beaten in August, 2011
When Aseem Trivedi exhibited similar cartoons at an India Against Corruption rally in December 2011 at the MMRDA grounds it appears his website was immediately banned. CARTOONSAGAINSTCORRUPTION.COM was reportedly suspended after a complaint was filed by a Mumbai-based lawyer. The web host and domain registrar of CARTOONS AGAINST CORRUPTION, BigRock, reportedly suspended Assad’s website in reaction to the complaint.
At the time, The Times of India reported:
That when cartoonist Aseem Trivedi's was told that his website could not be accessed anymore, he initially brushed it off as a connection issue. The Kanpur-based professional cartoonist was busy exhibiting his political cartoons in the anti-corruption protest at the MMRDA grounds in Mumbai.
It was only on Dec 27th, the next day, when he received an email from BigRock, the domain name registrar with which his website was registered, that he realized what was wrong. "We have received a complaint from Crime Branch, Mumbai against domain name 'cartoonsagainstcorruption.com' for displaying objectionable pictures and texts related to flag and emblem of India. Hence we have suspended the domain name and its associated services," the mail read.
In a later report TOI, BigRock general manager Shashank Mehrotra is quoted as saying:
"We received a complaint from the Mumbai Crime Branch and acted on it after evaluating the website according to our own 'acceptable use policy'. We found the material on it to be lewd."
The ban on the website initiated a hot debate over in India. Reporters Without Borders wrote in their report about India:
The national security policy of the world’s largest democracy is undermining online freedom of expression and Internet users’ privacy. The authorities have already clamped down on several mainly file-sharing and streaming websites without any ruling on the illegality of such actions. Anti-corruption cartoonist Aseem Trivedi saw his website, “Cartoons Against Corruption,” which features humorous anti-corruption drawings suspended by his hosting company in late 2011.
The Committee to Protect Journalists also stated in a report:
The case of a cartoonist charged with treason and offending India's national sentiments reflects a growing debate over what constitutes freedom of expression in India."
The cartoons which are grouped under the title, “cartoons against corruption” often feature derogatory depictions of politicians such as Digvijaya Singh and the Prime Minister. One cartoon depicts the national Ashoka emblem as three wolves dripping blood from their jaws, with the title, “wolves with the signs of danger”. Trivedi's cartoon have depicted Parliament as a commode and showed the national emblem with wolves instead of lions.
Aseem Trivedi is also a founding member of Save Your Voice, the movement against internet censorship in India. The website for this organization, saveyourvoice.in, is presently residing on web host BigRock servers.
HostJury requested a comment from BigRock management regarding the suspension of CARTOONS AGAINST CORRUPTION. An initial response came back minutes later that the questions had been forwarded to the responsible contact. A short time later HostJury received a follow up response from Shashank Mehrotra, the General Manager & Business Head, BigRock acknowledging receipt of our request for information.
I want to quickly acknowledge the note/set of questions you sent us about cartoonsagainstcorruption.com. Because of the time zones, it is very late here. I will send you a set of detailed responses explaining our actions, AUP, and position on this tomorrow.
Impressive response timing BigRock .. indeed, we at HostJury are very impressive!
(Editor's note. The following response points out a number of questions or issues around legal responsibilties of web hosts. HostJury will address these bigger issue in a separate post and provide a link in the coming days)
Big Rock Response
I’m sharing below some notes and background on this.
- BigRock is a domain name registrar and hosting business which is a part of the Directi group of companies. Collectively our businesses make us one the largest global registrar entities – powering over 7 million domains. We play an active role in detecting, managing, and mitigating abuse, spam, child pornography, pharmacy spam, and fraudulent activity on the Internet and have worked for many years with a number of cross border law enforcement agencies, industry groups working to mitigate abuse, and other interested parties in making the Internet safer and more secure. Our work has won us commendations from various agencies and working groups – including the FBI and the Mariposa Working Group to name a few.
- BigRock is the domain registrar for the domain: cartoonsagainstcorrpution.com. We were not the web hosting provider for this domain name. We are also not an ISP as suggested in previous media reports.
- BigRock received a government notice from the Cyber Police Station, Crime Branch, C.I.D, Mumbai on 27th December, 2011. This notice asked us to remove the website content pointed to by this domain name with immediate effect.
- We suspended the domain name, which is the action available to us as a domain registrar, as per our rights and obligations under our Domain Registrant Policy which forms part of our acceptable use policy which is quoted & highlighted below. The registrant was informed of our actions thereafter.
- Our Domain Registrant Policy references “applicable laws, government rules or regulations, requests of law enforcement”. We acted under the aegis of various laws including the Indian Information Technology Intermediaries Guidelines 2011, a link to which can be found here: www.mit.gov.in/sites/upload_files/dit/files/GSR314E_10511(1).pdf.
- BigRock is committed to the security and service of all its customers, its technology platform, and to obey the law of the land. BigRock does not censor or moderate content. We are however committed to take necessary action where required to disable content in violation of our acceptable usage policy and local and/or international law which is a commonly accepted norm amongst Internet companies who serve, host, or facilitate the publishing of online content.
- I am pointing you to the following independent blog post which has a detailed analysis of this case. We have no nexus with this blogger and are not offering any comments on its contents but want to highlight this as an independent opinion on some of intricacies involved: http://www.iltb.net/2012/01/cartoons-against-corruption-how-the-law-aids-web-censorship/
BigRock Domain Registrant Policy (between the Customer (registrant) and BigRock (registrar))
URL - http://www.bigrock.in/support/legal.php?requestfor=registraragreement&from=agree_page
4 (1)(5). RIGHTS OF REGISTRAR, REGISTRY OPERATOR AND SERVICE PROVIDERS
(5) Notwithstanding anything to the contrary, Registrar, Registry Operator and Service Providers, in their sole discretion, expressly reserve the right to without notice or refund, delete, suspend, deny, cancel, modify, take ownership of or transfer the Order, or to modify, upgrade, suspend, freeze OrderBox, or to publish, transmit, share data in the OrderBox Database with any person or entity, or to contact any entity in the OrderBox Database, in order to recover any Payment from the Registrant, Customer or Resellers, for any service rendered by Registrar including services rendered outside the scope of this agreement for which the Registrant, Customer or Reseller has been notified and requested to remit payment, or to correct mistakes made by Registrar, Registry Operator or Service Providers in processing or executing the Order, or incase of any breach of this Agreement, or incase Registrar learns of a possibility of breach or violation of this Agreement which Registrar in its sole discretion determines to be appropriate, or incase of Termination of this agreement, or if Registrar learns of any such event which Registrar reasonably determines would lead to Termination of this Agreement or would constitute as Breach thereof, or to protect the integrity and stability of the Registrar Products, OrderBox, and the Registry or to comply with any applicable laws, government rules or requirements, requests of law enforcement, or in compliance with any dispute resolution process, or in accordance/compliance with any agreements executed by Registrar including but not limited to agreements with Service Providers, and/or Registry Operator, and/or Customers and/or Resellers, or to avoid any liability, civil or criminal, on the part of Registrar and/or Service Providers, and/or the Registry Operator, as well as their affiliates, subsidiaries, officers, directors and employees, or if the Registrant and/or Agents or any other authorized representatives of the Registrant violate any applicable laws/government rules/usage policies, including but not limited to, intellectual property, copyright, patent, anti-spam, Phishing (identity theft), Pharming (DNS hijacking), distribution of virus or malware, child pornography, using Fast Flux techniques, running Botnet command and control, Hacking (illegal access to another computer or network), network attacks, money laundering schemes (Ponzi, Pyramid, Money Mule, etc.), illegal pharmaceutical distribution, or Registrar learns of the possibility of any such violation or upon appropriate authorization (what constitutes appropriate authorization is at the sole discretion of Registrar) from the Registrant or Customer or Reseller or their authorized representatives, or if Registrar, Registry Operator or Service Providers in their sole discretion determine that the information associated with the Order is inaccurate, or has been tampered with, or has been modified without authorization, or if Registrar or Service Providers in their sole discretion determine that the ownership of the Order should belong to another entity, or if Reseller/Customer/Registrant does not comply with any applicable terms and conditions, standards, policies, procedures, and practices laid down by Registrar, Service Providers, ICANN, the Registrar, the Registry Operator or for any appropriate reason. Registrar or Registry Operator, also reserve the right to freeze the Order during resolution of a dispute. The Registrant agrees that Registrar, Registry Operator and Service Providers, and the contractors, employees, directors, officers, representatives, agents and affiliates, of Registrar, Registry Operator and Service Providers, are not liable for loss or damages that may result from any of the above.
I hope this gives you the answers you need. My team and I are here if you have more questions. Thanks for reaching out.
General Manager & Business Head, BigRock