Artists, comics call for withdrawal of charges against Munawar Faruqui

The arrest of Mr. Faruqui “even before he cracked a joke” was astounding and outrageous.

An international group of artists, comedians, writers and activists on Friday called for the charges against comedian Munawar Faruqui to be dropped. They stated that the recent case against him had implications on the freedom of speech in India.

The public statement signed by 110 people, including historian Rajmohan Gandhi, writer Arundhati Roy, artist Mallika Sarabhai, actors Swara Bhaskar, Pooja Bhatt and Kalki Koechlin, and stand-up comics Kunal Kamra and Sanjay Rajoura, said: ‘As an international community of stand-up comics, artists, political satirists, writers, musicians, actors, entertainers, and concerned individuals, we are alarmed at what is happening in India, a country where laughter and irreverence has been part of traditions across religions and communities, and humour has been deployed by artists through centuries.”

The arrest of Mr. Faruqui “even before he cracked a joke” was astounding and outrageous. Along with him, five others — Edwin Anthony, Prakhar Vyas, Priyam Vyas, Nalin Yadav and Sadakat Khan — were also arrested. Mr. Faruqui was eventually granted bail by the Supreme Court. “He has now been released on bail, but the charges against him in Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh remain. We call for the dropping or dismissal of these trumped up charges for all six individuals,” the statement said.

Mr. Faruqui and those with him were arrested in Indore on January 1 for allegedly hurting religious sentiments.

“The Superintendent of Police reportedly said Munawar was going to insult Hindu gods, and even praised the vigilantes! Munawar faces criminal charges of ‘uttering words with deliberate intent to wound religious feelings’ among other sections of India’s penal code, for jokes he never cracked, in a performance that did not take place. These absurd but serious charges carry jail time. The state of Uttar Pradesh has also sought Munawar’s arrest on equally absurd charges,” the statement noted.

The signatories said they were alarmed that a stand-up comic was behind bars for over a month, facing serious charges “for no crime”.

“We call for an end to this persecution of Munawar Faruqui, his associates, and all other performers, who must have the right in any real democracy to use their art to comment on their times,” they said.

The statement was led by Progressive India Collective, PEN America, Freemuse and Reclaiming India, a press release said.

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