Kerala's 'draconian' law on offensive online posts put on hold
After inviting backlash with the Kerala Police Act Amendment ordinance, the state government on Monday decided to put the controversial law on hold. The Pinarayi Vijayan-led Left Democratic Front (LDF) government had said that the law was aimed at checking online abuse, particularly the abuse targeting women. However, critics described the law as "draconian," calling it an attack on free speech and press freedom.
Decided against implementing amendment after facing criticism: Vijayan
Chief Minister Vijayan said, "When the amendment was announced, there rose a difference of opinion from several quarters. Even those who support the LDF and those who stand for the protection of democracy expressed concern. It is in these circumstances that it was decided not to implement the amendment." He promised further action after discussing the matter in the Assembly with all parties.
What is the controversial new law?
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan had on Saturday signed an ordinance introducing the new Section 118(A) in the Kerala Police Act. The section pertains to "punishment for making, expressing, publishing, or disseminating any matter which is threatening, abusive, humiliating or defamatory." Offenses under the law will be punishable with up to three years' imprisonment or a fine up to Rs. 10,000 or both.
What are the issues with the law?
Experts say that the law can be misused in several ways, such as to silence the critics of the government, muzzle the media, and curtail free speech. The law also empowers the police to decide which content may be deemed offensive, abusive, defamatory, etc.
Vijayan also justified decision to introduce amendment
Vijayan said, "The government had decided to bring the amendment to prevent false campaigns questioning personal freedom and dignity enshrined in the constitution." He added, "Women and transgender persons have been attacked mercilessly. Family relations have been affected and victims were driven to suicide. People, including media heads, had demanded that there should be laws against it. That's why we thought of the amendment."
Opposition leaders move Kerala HC against amendment
Opposition leaders moved the Kerala High Court against the new law on Monday. Kerala Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) President K Surendran, and Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) leaders NK Premachandran, Shibu Baby John, and AA Azeez had submitted petitions in the HC challenging Section 118(A). Delhi-based Malayali lawyer Jojo Jose has also challenged the amendment. The pleas will be heard in court on Tuesday.