Kerala puts on hold 'draconian' law against social media users following outrage
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that the government will not implement the amendment in the Kerala Police Act for now, and that there will be a detailed discussion over the issue in the Legislative Assembly.
Amidst mounting pressure from the opposition and within the party, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has clarified that the government will not implement the amendment in Kerala Police act. The amendment 118a of the Kerala Police act was introduced to punish those indulging in insulting or abusing anyone on social media. Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said that there will be a detailed discussion about this in the assembly.
On last Saturday Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan signed an ordinance amending the Kerala Police Act. The ordinance would enforce of a new law under section 118a of the Kerala Police Act, which was described as follows- Punishment for expressing, publishing, disseminating, any matter which is threatening, abusive, humiliating or defamatory.
"Whoever makes, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication, any matter or subject for threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation or property of such person or class of persons or
any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or with both.” the ordinance read.
The government claimed that the law was implemented to curtail abuse against women and children through social media platforms. However the amendment could also be interpreted as an infringement to the freedom of expression. This soon triggered a political controversy in the state with the opposition, experts and social media influencers slamming the move by the state government.
Following the Draconian trend
Kerala for long has been mulling a law to curb the menace of cyber bullying. The law enforcement agencies would often point out that the SC has struck down 66A of IT act and 118 d of KP act, making the agencies toothless against such attacks.
66A Punishment for sending offensive messages through communication service, etc. -Any person who sends, by means of a computer resource or a communication device,-
(a) any information that is grossly offensive or has menacing character; or
(b) any information which he knows to be false, but for the purpose of causing annoyance, inconvenience, danger, obstruction, insult, injury, criminal intimidation, enmity, hatred or ill will, persistently by making use of such computer resource or a communication device; or
(c) any electronic mail or electronic mail message for the purpose of causing annoyance or inconvenience or to deceive or to mislead the addressee or recipient about the origin of such messages, shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years and with fine.
Sec 118 D of Kerala police acts says-any person who causes annoyance to any person in an indecent manner by statements or verbal or comments or telephone calls or calls of any type or by chasing or sending messages or mails by any means;
"if anybody causes annoyance (irritation, frustration ) to any other person in an indecent manner in any means, either through verbal or by comments , or making calls of any types, or chasing or sending message shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term which may extent to three years or with fine not exceeding ten thousand or with both" the act read.
The Supreme Court had struck down the 66A of IT Act by terming it unconstitutional and was directly affecting public's right to know. 118d was struck down for being similar to the 66A.
Interestingly the new amendment in Kerala Police Act had many similarities with the 66A and 118d.
On October 12th a group of woman activists including prominent dubbing artist Bhagyalakshmi thrashed a vlogger for passing derogatory remarks against them through his yout tube channel.
The activists claimed that the were outraged by the insensitive response of police inspite of filing multiple complaints. The incident triggered long debates of the need a strong law to restrict abuse of women on social platforms. On October 21st the state cabinet recommended an amendment in the Kerala Police act. The amendment would ensure 5 years imprisonment or Rs 10,000 fine or both to any person who defame, humiliate women in public domain. The recommendation was passed on to the governor to be issued as an ordinance.
However when the actual ordinance was published was last Saturday, it left many guessing on the actual intentions of amending the law. As per the law any person who express or disseminate any content through any mode of communication which may be deemed as humiliating, insulting or defamatory, may be deemed as a culprit. The law also says that any person can file a complaint against anyone if the actions of the later is found defamatory against a person or establishment of complainants interest.
Party and the allies not happy
The new amendment has not gone down well with the allies either. Some CPI leaders too raised objects against the law which would be a blanket ban on the freedom of expression. Though Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan clarified that the law will not be used against free speech or impartial journalism, that just wasn't enough to convince the public and political opponents. On Monday CPI(M) state leadership had to intervene and say that the state government will reconsider the new amendment in the law. Even Sitaram Yechuri said that they did not agree with the law
Opposition war front
BJP state President K Surendran on Monday filed a petition in the Kerala High Court challenging the new law. In the petition Surendran had alleged that the amendment was a violation of the fundamental rights.
The Congress too was up in arms as the Senior leaders including opposition leader and PCC President took to the streets of Thiruvanathapuram to hold protest march to the secratariat. The opposition leader urged the state government to withdraw the "draconian law", while the PCC President challenged the government to put them behind bars for expressing their opinion.
This was soon followed by an anticipated U-turn from the government. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in a statement said that the government will not implement the amendment now. The government also said that they will consider the opinion of the public and will hold discussions in the assembly as well.