After its new law on tackling cybercrime triggered massive outrage, the Pinarayi Vijayan-led government in Kerala has announced that it will be keeping the new law in abeyance and that it will not be implemented for now. The Kerala government had introduced Section 118A in the Kerala Police Act, which penalised ‘offensive’ posts on social media with an imprisonment of three years and a Rs 10,000 fine. Experts and opposition leaders alike had termed the law ‘draconian’ and an attack on free speech.
The controversial new section 118A of the Kerala Police Act will be kept in abeyance, said Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in a statement issued on Monday. The introduction of the Section through an ordinance had created a controversy with all quarters of people, including supporters of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government, criticising it for being unconstitutional.
"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," CM Pinarayi stated.
"The government had decided to bring the amendment to prevent the false campaigns questioning personal freedom and dignity enshrined in the constitution. Women and transgender persons have been attacked mercilessly. Family relations have been affected and victims driven to suicide. People, including media heads, had demanded that there should be laws against it. That's why we thought of the amendment,” the statement said.
After discussing it in the Assembly with all parties, further action will be taken, the CM said. He also requested those who indulge in such campaigns hurting personal freedom and humanity to refrain from it.
The ordinance introducing the new Section 118A was approved by the Kerala Governor on Saturday, sparking off criticism from all quarters. The law, supposed to address cyber bullying, can be misused in a number of ways, say experts, given that it is left to the police to decide what content is offensive on any mode of communication, as critics pointed out. This would amount to violation of fundamental rights of freedom of expression, they said. The cases can be cognizable — without requiring a warrant or a court direction or even a complaint — and the punishment can last up to three years of imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000.
On Monday, opposition leaders in Kerala, including the BJP had moved the Kerala High Court against the Kerala government’s new law. Kerala BJP President K Surendran as well as Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) leaders NK Premachandran, Shibu Baby John and AA Azeez had submit petitions in Kerala High Court challenging Section 118A of Kerala Police Act. Delhi-based Malayali lawyer Jojo Jose also filed a petition against the amendment. The court is scheduled to hear the petitions on Tuesday.