Unease in CPM over ordinance, BJP and Cong call it bid to gag free speech

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Written by Shaju Philip
, Manoj CG
| New Delhi, Thiruvananthapuram |

Updated: Nov 23, 2020 4:50:48 AM


Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan. (File)

In the face of widespread criticism and outrage over the Kerala government’s decision to change the law to impose a jail term for any “offensive” social media post, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said he would not be used against “freedom of expression” or “impartial journalism”.

Few would buy this, with opposition parties criticizing the ruling LDF, led by the CPM, for its “harsh and draconian” decision to “gag the media”. Sources from Vijayan’s own party said the chief minister’s clarification came after the central leadership of the PMO intervened. “There is a huge scandal … It is becoming difficult to defend such an ordinance,” said a member of the Politburo.

The IPC, a constituent of the LDF in Kerala, is also upset. A party leader said Vijayan should have taken the ally in confidence and that the issue will be addressed at the next alliance meeting.

CPI Secretary General Dr Raja said The Indian Express said his party was opposed to governments taking the ordinance route on these issues.

“The Chief Minister issued a clarification indicating that all objections, apprehensions and constructive criticism will be taken into consideration. Our party therefore hopes that the LDF government will take into account public opinion and that our party will address the issue accordingly at the appropriate level. We will address the issue at the appropriate level, ”Raja said.

Meanwhile, Kerala Assembly opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala of Congress accused the government “of trying to silence those who criticize them”. BJP State President K Surendran said the amendment was intended to “silence any political protest”.

Senior Congressman and former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram tweeted he was “shocked by the law”. He wanted to know how the general secretary of the PMO, Sitaram Yechury, would defend the “atrocious” decision.

Vijayan said these “apprehensions” were “unfounded”. Kerala Police said that before taking further action under the amendment, a Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) will be prepared in consultation with legal experts to ensure the order is not misused.

Governor Arif Mohammad Khan on Friday approved the Kerala Police Ordinance (Amendment) 2020 which incorporates a new section, 118 (A), into the Kerala Police Act. As a result, anyone who creates or sends information that is offensive or intended to offend or threaten another person, by any means of communication, is liable to a prison sentence of three years or a fine of Rs 10,000 or so. of them.

While the government asserted that the amendment seeks to control the misuse of social media targeting individuals, the opposition said it was “against freedom of the press” and “violates the fundamental right to liberty. of speech and expression enshrined in the Constitution ”.

In a statement, Vijayan said: “In the name of press freedom, individual freedom cannot be violated. Likewise, in the name of individual freedom, the freedom of the press cannot be violated. The government has a duty to protect both. It is in this context that even at the international level, measures are put in place against the attack on the dignity of the person. The changes to the Kerala Police Act are only those that are in line with such measures. ”

He said the state government had received complaints, including from prominent public figures, about targeted attacks and misuse of social media, particularly through certain online channels “under the guise of journalism.”

Specifically highlighting the attacks on social media facing women and the transgender community, Vijayan said they have resulted in “heartbreaking tragedies” and involved a “personal vendetta” with “monetary interests.” “The government will certainly take into account all the opinions and creative suggestions that are expressed regarding this amendment,” he said.

Chennithala said: “The new section aims to silence the media. The CPM and its government want to silence those who criticize them. The government wants to gag the press, which denounces corruption and nepotism in governance. The CPM sends the message that anyone who dares to speak out against the government will be sent to jail.

He said the chief minister “has introduced a harsh and draconian rule against free speech.”

BJP head of state Surendran said the new section was “intended to silence political protests against the government”. “It shows that there is an undeclared emergency in Kerala. The new law infringes on people’s right to freedom of expression. The Chief Minister wants to silence not only the new media, but also the general public, ”he said.

In 2015, the Supreme Court, in its landmark judgment on Section 66A of the Computing Act, struck down a similar provision in the Kerala Police Act for violating the right to freedom of speech and expression. and for its vagueness.

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