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Kerala not to implement Ordinance to curb abusive content

Our Bureau Thiruvananthapuram | Updated on November 24, 2020

Move runs into all-round criticism

The Kerala government has decided against enacting a controversial Ordinance to empower the police to prosecute persons for purveying information deemed defamatory by the law enforcing agencies.

This retreat came about after Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan met with members of the CPI(M) State secretariat and the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF). Both had come under attack from journalist organisations and civil rights activists for promulgating what they described as a ‘black law’ threatening free speech and the freedom of the press.

 

The Chief Minister said various quarters had aired scepticism about the ‘recent revision to the Kerala Police Act, 2011.’ Hence, the State government had decided not to put into effect the Ordinance signed into law last week by the Governor Arif Muhammad Khan.

Targeted against slander

LDF convener and CPI(M) acting State secretary A Vijayaraghavan said ‘concerns raised by progressive persons’ had prompted the rethink. According to him, misuse of social media for slander targeting women, children and families had necessitated the law. But the scope of potential abuse of the law had prompted its withdrawal.

Both the Opposition Congress and the state unit of the BJP had vehemently criticised the insertion of Section 118-A into the Kerala Police Act. The amendment proposed three years of imprisonment and a fine of up to ₹10,000 for those convicted of producing, publishing or disseminating derogatory content through any means of communication to intimidate, insult or defame any person.

The law did not restrict itself to curbing ‘vile and inhumane social media posts against women and children’ alone, as claimed by the Chief Minister repeatedly. The Ordinance did not mention social media posts and had left the amendment open to broad and subjective interpretation by the police, it was argued.

Strident public outcry

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Mullapally Ramachandran and the party-led United Democratic Front (UDF) convener MM Hassan staged a sit-in protest in front of the Secretariat asking the government to revoke the ‘draconian’ provision.

BJP State president K Surendran and UDF leader Shibu Baby John moved the High Court separately in the matter. Surendran said the amendment had sought to curtail the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under Article 19 (I) of the Constitution. The government had attempted to insulate itself from critical media reports ahead of the local body and Assembly elections, he said.

The Congress and the BJP argued that the new law had rendered defamation a cognisable offence. Chennithala said the law conferred on the police the power to assess the loss of reputation and mental injury caused due to dissemination of news and views. Ruling coalition partner CPI had opposed the law ‘meekly and to no avail,’ he added.

Published on November 23, 2020

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