Kerala Police Act | LDF govt to bring in ordinance to withdraw controversial amendment

The government factored in public anxiety about the law. It acted with perceptiveness and annulled it, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said. File   | Photo Credit: Shiv Kumar Pushpakar

A special meeting of the Cabinet on Tuesday decided to request Governor Arif Muhammad Khan to promulgate a “withdrawal” ordinance to revoke the controversial executive order that sought to empower the police to prosecute persons disseminating defamatory content.

Also read: Kerala Police Act amendment | No FIR will be registered: government assures High Court

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, who chaired the meeting, said different quarters supportive of the government had expressed alarm that Section 118-A of the amended Kerala Police Act (KPA), 2011, bestowed unfettered powers on the law enforcement to curtail free speech and media freedom.

The government factored in public anxiety about the law. It acted with perceptiveness and annulled it, Mr. Vijayan said.

The government had introduced the amendment in good faith. It sought to give more teeth to the police to crackdown on vile and hateful social media messaging that targeted women, children, transgender people and other vulnerable sections of society.

Also read: Kerala Police Act amendment not cleared by MHA

Moreover, such attacks had led to acts of vigilantism that threatened public peace and social order. It was widely felt the existing law was inadequate to deal with the legal challenges posed by the new media.

The ordinance targeted defamatory social media posts and online content. Its intent was not to curb reportage, political satire, opinion, free speech, impartial journalism or commentary, Mr. Vijayan said. The government was unlikely to revisit the law.

The government would place any future revision to the law, if at all, in the Assembly to evolve a political consensus before enactment.

Also read: Amendment to Kerala Police Act ‘draconian’, says Muraleedharan

The government had come under criticism from Opposition parties, civil rights activists and journalist bodies for promulgating a “black law” that threatened free speech.

They claimed the law accorded untrammelled power to the police to scour published and aired content for libellous material. The amendment also empowered the police to initiate prosecution on their own and even in the absence of a specific complaint.

Moreover, the Opposition parties argued the law did not distinguish between social and online media. Its implementation was left open to broad and subjective interpretation by the police. Critics said the ordinance, had at a stroke, brought the conventional press and whole gamut of online expression under its ambit.

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

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 government had reportedly received a legal opinion that the ordinance was inherently flawed. It had for one sought to resurrect the trespasses on freedom of speech the Supreme Court had thrashed by scrapping Section 66 A of the IT Act. The Opposition had moved the High Court against the ordinance. Moreover, critics of the law said the decree had rendered defamation a cognisable and arrestable offence.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 5:26:46 PM |

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