Uproar over Kerala law to curb abusive content

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The amendment resurrected the “same legal vices” that the Supreme Court had “destroyed” by deleting Article 66 A of the Information Technology Act.

A sweeping amendment to the Kerala Police Act 2011, aimed at giving local law enforcement more teeth to curb defamation, has led to an outcry with opposition parties, journalistic bodies and public officials. civil rights activists seeing a threat to press freedom and freedom of expression in Kerala.

Kerala Governor Arif Muhammad Khan recently signed an ordinance amending the law give the police more power to prosecute people who exploit various communication platforms to slander their fellow citizens.

Also read: Activists clash with man who posted abusive video

The ordinance introduced a new provision, Article 118-A, into the law. The amendment proposes three years in prison and a fine of up to ₹ 10,000 for those found guilty of producing, posting or disseminating derogatory content by any means of communication to intimidate, insult or defame any person.

Congress reacted strongly to this decision. Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala said the amendment would reverse the course of media freedom, muzzle free speech and undermine civil liberties.

Also read: IPC opposes ‘anti-media’ police amendment

Former Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram tweeted: “Shocked by the law of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government of Kerala, making an allegedly offensive post on social media punishable by [three] years in prison ”.

KPCC chairman Mullapally Ramachandran said the new law gives law enforcement wide latitude to clamp down on free speech and browbeat critics, journalists and commentators are complying.

BG Harindranath, Kerala’s former legal secretary, said the amendment gave the police unlimited power to review published and broadcast content and record cases even in the absence of a specific complaint. The new law made defamation a punishable offense.

The amendment resurrected the “same legal vices” that the Supreme Court had “destroyed” by deleting Article 66 A of the Information Technology Act.

“Giving the police the power to assess mental health injuries, loss of reputation and such matters due to the dissemination of information would lead to widespread abuse. The amendment could restrict the freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by Article 19 (1) of the Constitution, ”he said.

IUML State Secretary General KPA Majeed criticized the move as an attempt to muzzle the press. Various journalists’ unions echoed a similar sentiment.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the amendment targeted defamatory social media posts and online content. He did not seek to curb reporting, political satire, opinion, free speech, impartial journalism or commentary.

The State Government has repeatedly received complaints against the widespread misuse of social media, especially through specific online channels, to launch “inhuman and vile cyber attacks” against individuals and their families under the guise of journalism. However, the ordinance did not specifically mention social media posts.

The chief minister said the attacks smacked of personal vendetta and had tragic consequences for the victims, including suicide. The government has a responsibility to defend the freedom and dignity of citizens.

Mr. Vijayan said that the “traditional media” functioned mainly within the limits of the law. However, “some” online channels do not respect the law and violate the rights of others with impunity.

Such outlets have “created an atmosphere of anarchy which could alter the social order, which cannot be authorized”, declared the chief minister. The government was open to “creative opinions and suggestions” regarding the amendment, he said.

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