Kerala

Kerala govt. not to put into effect the Ordinance to curb abusive content

On the drastic amendment of Kerala Police Act, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the amendment targeted defamatory social media posts and online content. File   | Photo Credit: S. Mahinsha

Apparently stung by widespread criticism, the Kerala government on Monday shied away from enacting a controversial ordinance that sought to empower the police to prosecute persons who disseminated information that the law enforcement deemed defamatory.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said various quarters had aired scepticism about the recent revision to the Kerala Police Act, 2011.

 

Hence, the government had decided not to put into effect the ordinance signed into law by Kerala Governor Arif Muhammad Khan last week.

Debate in Assembly

Alternatively, the government would seek a consensus view by placing the amendment for debate in the Legislative Assembly, he said.

The significant turnabout in policy came approximately an hour after Mr. Vijayan conferred with the members of the CPI(M) State secretariat and the Left Democratic Front (LDF).

The LDF and the government had come under withering criticism from Opposition parties, journalist organisations and civil rights activists for promulgating a “black law” that threatened free speech and the freedom of the press.

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

Cong., BJP move against law

The Congress and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) found themselves on the same page opposing Section 118-A inserted into the Act newly.

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 Mr. Vijayan repeatedly.

Notably, the ordinance did not unambiguously mention social media posts and arguably left the amendment open to broad and subjective interpretation by the police.

The amendment also conceivably granted the police untrammelled authority to examine published and broadcast content and register cases on their own and even in the absence of a specific complaint.

The law, debatably, brought the conventional media and also the whole gamut of social media posts and online commentary under its ambit.

Public outcry

Fears about the “oppressive” amendment triggered an intense public outcry that seemed not to augur well for the government and the LDF in the election year.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Mullapally Ramachandran and United Democratic Front (UDF) convener M. M. Hassan staged a sit-in protest in front of the Secretariat asking the government to invalidate the “draconian” provision.

BJP State president K. Surendran and UDF leader Shibu Baby John moved the High Court separately against the amendment.

The Congress and the BJP argued that the new law had rendered defamation a cognisable offence. The amendment had resurrected the “same legal vices” the Supreme Court had “trashed” by scrapping Section 66 A of the IT Act.

Mr. 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.

The CPI had opposed the law “meekly and to no avail”. Mr. Ramachandran said the amendment was an act of overt censorship reflective of Mr. Vijayan’s “authoritarian tendencies”.

Mr. 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.

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Printable version | Jan 18, 2021 6:59:29 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/kerala/kerala-govt-retreats-from-enacting-ordinance-that-curb-abusive-content/article33159518.ece

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