NEW DELHI (AP) — An international rights group on Tuesday demanded the release of an Indian folk singer arrested on charges including sedition for writing songs criticizing a state official for not banning liquor sales.
Police arrested S. Kovan on Friday for accusing J. Jayalalitha, the chief minister of southern Tamil Nadu state, and her government of profiting from state-run liquor shops at the expense of the poor. A large number of poor people die in India every year from drinking cheap tainted liquor.
If convicted on the sedition charge, Kovan could face up to life in prison. Police also charged the singer with promoting enmity between various social groups, criminal intimidation and insulting the state government.
Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, said in a statement Tuesday that police arrested Kovan in "a misguided attempt" to shield Jayalalitha from criticism, and demanded his immediate release.
"A law that is repeatedly used to arrest singers, cartoonists and writers has no place in a democracy - and should be repealed," Ganguly said.
Three years ago, an Indian political cartoonist was jailed on sedition charges for drawings that mocked corruption in India's government. He was later released after protests by rights activists.
Kovan, who is popular in southern India, wrote two songs criticizing Jayalalitha. He heads the cultural wing of the People's Art and Literary Association, a 30-year-old movement working for the weaker sections of society.