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The Indian man in prison for cracking "offensive" jokes

For nearly a month, a 41-year-old Indian man has been in prison for posting five satirical tweets.

In September, Abhijit Iyer-Mitra, a Delhi-based defence specialist with some 20,000 Twitter followers posted what he himself described as a "disparaging" video from a visit to the 13th Century Konark temple in the eastern state of Orissa.

Following outrage against his "vulgar" comments about the temple, which features erotic sculptures, he quickly clarified that the tweet was a joke, and the sculptures were "exquisite". The other tweets appear to be making fun of the people of the state and another of its famous temples.

Two locals filed police complaints saying the tweets had hurt the sentiments of the 40 million people who live in Orissa, which is known for its historic temples, sun-washed beaches and delicious cuisine. It's another matter that there has been no public agitation against Mr Iyer-Mitra for his comments and that one of his offending tweets got just seven likes and one retweet.

But Mr Iyer-Mitra has been slapped with a bewildering array of charges for his "crimes".

He's been accused of promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion and race in a place of worship, insulting religious feelings and creating "public nuisance". He has been charged with an "obscene act in a public place". A protection of ancient monument law has been invoked to charge him with misuse of the Konark temple where he recorded his video. And the information and technology law has been dredged up to charge him with sending offensive messages.

As if all this was not enough, Mr Iyer-Mitra has also been accused of defamation under a At least two of the charges are non-bailable and if found guilty, he could languish in prison for five years.

Mr Iyer-Mitra has unconditionally apologised - "I beg apology because of my stupidity", he said - to Orissa's lawmakers. Despite that, police have pressed on with the charges and a lower court has refused to grant him bail, saying he could intimidate witnesses or tamper with evidence. ()

Twice, Mr Iyer-Mitra's bail pleas in the lower court have been rejected. Even the Supreme Court has refused to grant him bail saying he was "inciting religious faith". The top court judge said jail was the safest place for him if he feared for his life, a remark which rights group Amnesty International found "deeply worrying".

To make matter worse, a 78-day-old strike by lawyers in Orissa protesting against the alleged assault of a colleague, has meant that Mr Iyer has had to personally plead for bail in makeshift courts set up in the prison where he's lodged.

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