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Belgian lensman gets relief in Nudie Pictures obscenity case

MUMBAI, India: A sessions court on Monday discharged Belgian fashion photographer Van de Gaetan from an obscenity case slapped against him by the city police. Gaetan had to spend five months in jail, with “serious damage” to his reputation due to what his lawyer described as the “high-handedness” of the police, before getting a clean chit from the court.

Gaetan, son of a former governor of Congo, was invited to Delhi by some international photographers. In October 2007, he came to Mumbai to shoot for some leading brands. In January 2008, two aspiring models, Tushar Narvekar and Nitin Gupta, approached him to take their pictures. “They agreed to be shot in the buff,” said Gaetan’s lawyer Sameer Vaidya, adding that their pictures were e-mailed to them and to no one else.

The models did not lodge a complaint against Gaetan. However, the D N Nagar police filed a case against him, pressing charges of obscenity under the IPC as well as the stringent Information Technology Act. That’s when Gaetan’s nightmare began.

He was arrested from his Andheri residence on January 13, 2008, and sent to the Arthur Road jail. Gaetan managed to get bail two months later, in March, but was forced to stay in custody till June because no local person agreed to stand surety for him.

“The initial reports even said I was a paedophile and suddenly all doors shut on me,” Gaetan told TOI. “The matter was widely reported in the press and back home in Belgium my family was hounded,” he added. His health took such a beating in jail that prison officials suspected that he had AIDS and had him hospitalised for a month.

Gaetan said the entire episode left him a “broken man”. “My reputation is destroyed. All my business projects are gone and equipment worth lakhs is with the police,” he said. Moreover, he now has no place to stay and has to knock on the doors of his European friends in the city. “I got a copy of the charges in Marathi and could not even understand what was happening. It seems that the police can pick up anybody and put a person in jail for months for no reason,” Gaetan said, adding that he would ask the state for compensation.

The high court, while granting him bail, had said “it is unclear how the transmission of the photos was likely to deprave or corrupt the male models who received their own photographs, perhaps allowed to be taken for a fee”.

However, Gaetan’s first discharge plea filed with a magistrate was rejected in November 2008. He then moved a plea before judge S G Deshpande of the sessions court.

“We argued that Gaetan had not sent the pictures to anybody but the models and they had consented to the shoot. So, the question of obscenity or circulating pictures did not arise,” said Vaidya.

The police continued to allege that Gaetan took “lascivious photos of others and circulated them on e-mail as a business.” “Yet, they did not get a single forensic report to support such a serious charge and show that the photographs had actually been distributed,” Vaidya said.

Vaidya also extensively referred to a Supreme Court judgment in artist M F Husain’s case to say that Gaetan’s work was art and could not be summarily declared as obscene by the police.

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