A drastic modification to the Kerala Police Act, 2011, to provide the native legislation enforcement extra enamel to curb defamation has led to an uproar with Opposition events, journalist our bodies and civil rights activists seeing a risk to the liberty of the press and free speech in Kerala.
Kerala Governor Arif Muhammad Khan just lately signed an ordinance amending the legislation to provide the police extra energy to prosecute individuals who exploit numerous communication platforms to slander fellow residents.
The ordinance has launched a brand new provision, Section 118-A, to the Act. The modification proposes three years of imprisonment and a fantastic of upto ₹10,000 for these convicted of manufacturing, publishing or disseminating derogatory content material by way of any technique of communication to intimidate, insult or defame any individual.
The Congress has reacted sharply to the transfer. Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala mentioned the modification would reverse the course on media freedom, muzzle free speech and jeopardise civil liberties.
Former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram tweeted, “Shocked by the law made by the Left Democratic Front [LDF] government of Kerala making a so-called ‘offensive’ post on social media punishable by [three] years in prison”.
KPCC president Mullapally Ramachandran mentioned the brand new legislation granted broad latitude to legislation enforcers to clamp down on free speech and browbeat critics, journalists and commentators into submission.
Former Kerala Law Secretary B.G. Harindranath mentioned the modification granted the police untrammelled authority to look at revealed and broadcast content material and register instances even within the absence of a particular grievance. The new legislation has rendered defamation a cognisable offence.
The modification had resurrected the “same legal vices” the Supreme Court had “trashed” by scrapping Section 66 A of the IT Act.
“Conferring power on the police to gauge mental injury, loss of reputation and such matters due to dissemination of information would result in widespread abuse. The amendment could curtail the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19  of the Constitution,” he said.
IUML state general secretary K.P.A. Majeed has criticised the move as an attempt to muzzle the press. Various journalist unions have echoed a similar sentiment.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the amendment targeted defamatory social media posts and online content. It did not seek to curb reportage, political satire, opinion, free speech, impartial journalism or commentary.
The State Government had repeatedly received complaints against the rampant misuse of social media, especially by specific online channels, to launch “inhuman and vile cyberattacks” against individuals and their families under the guise of journalism. However, the ordinance did not specifically mention social media posts.
The CM said such attacks smacked of personal vendetta and have resulted in tragic consequences for victims, including suicide. The government has the responsibility to uphold the freedom and dignity of citizens.
Mr. Vijayan said the “conventional media” functioned mostly within the bounds of the law. However, “sure” online channels had scant regard for law and violated the rights of others with impunity.
Such outlets have “created an environment of anarchy that might alter the social order, which can’t be allowed”, the CM said. The government was open to “inventive opinions and options” concerning the modification, he mentioned.