An Indian court on Monday sent a cartoonist to jail to await trial on sedition charges over sketches that lampoon government corruption, triggering an outcry from freedom of expression campaigners.
The detention of Aseem Trivedi, a freelance artist whose cartoons include parliament depicted as a giant toilet bowl, has been cited as the latest example of growing intolerance of criticism from Indian authorities.
A local court in Mumbai on Monday ordered the cartoonist, who refused to apply for bail, to be held in custody until September 24, his lawyer Vijay Hiremath told AFP.
"His position is that he is not anti-nationalist and sedition charges should be dropped," Hiremath said.
Cartoons on Trivedi's website show the sole surviving gunman from the 2008 Mumbai attacks urinating on the Indian constitution, while another image is titled "Gang Rape of Mother India".
He was arrested on Saturday under laws governing sedition, information technology and protecting India's national flag and constitution.
"We are very unhappy about the arrest as he has not committed any crime, he has just exercised his freedom of expression through his cartoons," V.G. Narendra, head of the Indian Institute of Cartoonists, told AFP.
"Cartoonists should be given a free hand. We must have the ability to laugh at ourselves."
Earlier this year Trivedi established Save Your Voice, a group lobbying against Internet censorship, while he is also a supporter of India Against Corruption (IAC), the popular anti-graft campaign lead by Anna Hazare.
A statement from IAC said they were "shocked" at the way he was treated by police, saying he was "badly roughed up and pushed in to the police vehicle where his head banged against the vehicle".
On Monday, about 100 IAC protesters loudly chanted outside the Mumbai police station where he was being held, while online petitions were circulated demanding his immediate release.
The government has recently been criticised for heavy-handed blocking of the Internet content in an attempt to calm ethnic tensions in Bangalore and other cities.
Some Twitter accounts that ridiculed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were also blocked in the crackdown.
Ministers on Monday appeared uneasy about Trivedi's arrest, with Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni saying that drawing of political cartoons "should not be viewed as something which is a crime".
"The government is not for censorship but for self-regulation," she said.
Another row over online censorship blew up last year when Communications Minister Kapil Sibal held meetings with Facebook, Google and other IT giants over obscene images that risked offending Muslims or defamed politicians.
Social networking sites have also been targeted in legal action over hosting allegedly offensive content.
"If telling the truth makes me a traitor, then I am one," Trivedi said outside the court on Sunday.
Nilanjana Roy, an anti-censorship campaigner and literary critic, told AFP the action against Trivedi was "in line with what has been happening in India in the last decade".
She said old laws were misused "to shut out whatever is inconvenient".
"It has been on the rise for a while. It is not just the politicians but there has been a broad middle-class refusal to defend freedom of expression," she added.
Markandey Katju, chairman of the Press Council of India and former Supreme Court judge, also defended Trivedi, who was accused over contentious cartoons displayed at an anti-corruption rally last year and on his website.
During a lecture in Chennai on Monday, Katju termed the arrest a "serious criminal offence" and suggested the politicians and police behind it should be detained themselves, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
Geeta Seshu, consulting editor at The Hoot, a media watch website, said the charge of sedition was "not warranted at all".
"It has a chilling effect because it frightens people into silence," she told AFP.