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KERALA POLICE ACT AMENDMENT AND FREE SPEECH

The Editorial covers GS paper 2 [Government policies and interventions for development in various sectors and issues arising out of their design and implementation.]

Kerala's new 118A law - INSIGHTSIAS

Context

  • The government of Kerala has put on hold the implementation of the Kerala Police Act Amendment after facing massive backlash over the same. 

  • Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said that due to concerns raised by the supporters of the Left Democratic Front, the law will not be amended. 


What is the Background?

  • The Kerala Government had decided to amend the Kerala Police Act in an effort to check the widespread malicious campaigns through social media and otherwise, which pose a threat to individual freedom and dignity, which are constitutionally ensured to citizens. 

  • Criticisms and complaints against defamatory, untrue and obscene campaigns have come up from various quarters of the society. 

What are the reactions?

  • Strong protests have emerged from the society on account of the merciless attacks on various sections including women and transgenders. 

  • There have been instances in which even the integrity of families has been affected, resulting in suicides. 

  • The need for legally tackling this was raised even by the heads of media houses.

  •  It was in these circumstances that an amendment to the Kerala Police Act was envisaged. 

  • The amendment evoked varied responses from several corners. 

What are the highlights of the new law?

  • “Whoever makes, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication, any matter or subject for threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation or property of such person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or with both.”

  • This means that a person can face three years in jail and a fine of Rs 10,000 for any social media post that is considered “offensive” or “defamatory”.

  • This is not just for writing or creating such a post, but those who share that post or opinion will also face the same kind of punishment.

Why is it being criticized?

  • It is being seen as an attempt to stifle not only dissent but also freedom of speech and expression.

  • It has resurrected the “same legal vices” the Supreme Court had “trashed” by scrapping Section 66 A of the IT Act.

  • The law is unspecific and indistinct and can be indiscriminately misused by individuals or even the government and the police, who may use it against those whom they simply disagree with.

  • Though the Kerala government claims it is to fight cyber crimes against women, that has not found any mention in the law either.

  • It restricts speech without any domain limitation, it restricts Article 19 of the Constitution in an active way and is not protected by Article 19(2).

  • It will effectively be a DDOS attack (denial-of-service attack) on the police functioning on the state, as well as on the police. There will be a huge rush of FIRs filed against all kind of issues between people.

  • It gives power to the police to file suo-motu cases against anyone.


Conclusion

  • A similar law was repealed by the Supreme Court in 2015 along with Section 66A of the IT Act — Section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act —  for being a threat to free speech.

  • Therefore, this new law has been brought in to ‘fill the gap’ left by the repealing of the two laws, which leaves current laws ‘inadequate’ to prevent crimes online which have ‘caused considerable distress to the women in our society’ and cyber attacks that are ‘turning into a threat to privacy’.