By Saurabh Sharma and Alasdair Pal
LUCKNOW, India, Jan.28 (Reuters) – An Indian court on Thursday denied the bail of a Muslim comedian accused of insulting Hinduism, in a case that has raised concerns over freedom of expression in the country.
Munawar Faruqui, 29, was arrested on January 1 in the city of Indore, central India, during a comedy show.
A lawsuit filed by the son of a ruling party lawmaker Bharatiya Janata accused Faruqui of making “dirty and indecent jokes” about Hindu gods and goddesses, as well as Indian Interior Minister Amit Shah.
Friends pleading for his release say he did not make any offensive jokes on his show on the day of his arrest.
On Thursday, a court in Indore dismissed a bail appeal.
“In view of the documents seized and the statements of witnesses and the fact that the investigation is underway, no request for release on bail is presented”, indicates the order.
Faruqui’s friend Saad Sheikh, who coordinates with the legal team for his release, told Reuters that this was the third time that a bail application has been denied.
“His family is very discouraged,” he said. “Today is his birthday and we can’t organize anything for him. He is in jail and he has also apologized.”
The continued detention of Faruqui has sounded the alarm on the treatment of the Indian Muslim minority, as well as the limited space for artistic expression.
“Make no mistake – this is a landmark case, which calls into question India’s commitment to free speech, the rule of law and judicial fairness,” said Thursday an editorial in the Indian newspaper Hindustan Times.