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Kerala Puts on the Back Burner Controversial Law to Police Content on Social Media After Receiving Flak

File photo of Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan.

File photo of Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan.

The ordinance, signed by Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on Saturday, has received criticism from all corners as it punishes those guilty of spreading content by any means that found to be derogatory or defamatory.

A day after claiming that the amendment to the Kerala Police Act "will in no way be used against free speech or impartial journalism", Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday said the controversial law will not be implemented before a detailed discussion in the state legislative assembly.

Opinions of all sides will be heard and only then further secession will be taken, Vijayan said.

“With the announcement of the amendment, different views arose from different quarters. Concerns were expressed by those who supported the Left Democratic Front and those who stood for the protection of democracy. In this situation, we are not intending to amend the law. Detailed discussions in this regard will be held in the Assembly and further steps will be taken in this regard after hearing the views of all parties," the CM said in a statement.

The ordinance, signed by Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on Saturday, has received criticism from all corners as it punishes those guilty of spreading content by any means that found to be derogatory or defamatory. Punishments include three years jail time, a fine of ₹ 10,000 or both.

The opposition parties have alleged that the amendment would give more power to the police and also curtail the freedom of the press, the charge which was rejected by Vijayan, saying the decision had been taken based on factors such as abuse of social media to tarnish the image of individuals.

BJP state President K surendran has decided to move the high court against the order.

The UDF leaders led by opposition leader Ramesh chennithala took out a protest march from the martyrs square toward state secretariat against the ordinance.

The ordinance states: “118 A. Punishment for making, expressing, publishing or 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.”

Expressing concern over the rising crime graph, fake propaganda and hate speech on social media since the outbreak of COVID-19, the LDF government had said since cyber attacks are a major threat to private life, it has been decided to amend the Police Act as the existing legal provisions were inadequate to fight such crimes.

It said while the Supreme Court had repealed section 66-A of the IT Act and Section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police Act on the grounds that these were against freedom of expression, the Centre has not introduced any other legal framework. ”In this scenario, the police are unable to deal effectively with crimes committed through social media,” the government had said.

The Opposition, however, has pointed out that the Act can be interpreted in many ways and it is an attack on the freedom of speech as different mode of communications will also come under the ambit of the Act.

first published:November 23, 2020, 13:34 IST
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