The Pinarayi Vijayan government in Kerala on Monday put on hold the implementation of the controversial amendment to the state Police Act, citing criticism from various quarters.
The amendment which introduces a section that deals with punishing defamatory communication would deal a severe blow to free speech, many had argued. On Sunday, in the face of mounting outrage from state opposition parties Congress and BJP, Chief Minister Vijayan had defended the ordinance and said criticism to it should not be done to settle political scores.
As The Wire had reported on Sunday, November 22, last month the Kerala cabinet had decided to bolster the Police Act by recommending the insertion of Section 118A. The ordinance, which was approved by the state cabinet last week and signed by Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on Sunday, introduced this new section.
Like the now-read-down Section 118D, which had dealt with ‘annoyance’ caused through telephone calls and messages, the new section stipulates either imprisonment for up to three years or a fine of up to Rs 10,000 or both to those who produce, publish or disseminate content through any means of communication with an intention to intimidate, insult or defame any person.
According to state government officials, the new section is needed to deal with “crimes committed through social media”. However, existing provisions of law which cover threats or intimidation can well be applied to the same acts committed via electronic means.