Kerala govt to withdraw controversial Section 118A via ordinance

The state government has recommended the Governor to promulgate the repeal ordinance, to cancel the previous order.
Pinarayi Vijayan
Pinarayi Vijayan
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The Kerala Cabinet has decided to withdraw controversial Section 118A amendment to the Kerala Police Act, which proposed to criminalise ‘offensive’ posts on social media with three years imprisonment and a fine of Rs 10,000. The Cabinet has decided to submit a fresh ordinance to repeal the amendment, which was promulgated as an ordinance by Keraka Governor Arif Mohammad Khan, on Saturday.

In the wake of strong opposition from people across the state, experts and opposition, the Kerala government has decided to put the law in abeyance on Monday. Later, on Tuesday, the state cabinet decided to withdraw it completely. The state government has recommended the Governor to promulgate the repeal ordinance, to cancel the previous order.

Chief Minister of Kerala Pinarayi Vijayan said on Monday that many, including those who support the Left Democratic Front (LDF), had expressed concerns over the implementation of the law. “The state government had earlier decided to amend the Kerala Police Act to address the problem of cyberbullying and hate speech over social media and digital spaces. But many have expressed concerns about it. The voices of dissent include people who support the LDF and many others who stand up for democracy," the CM wrote on Twitter.

The Governor sanctioned the ordinance on Saturday. The state cabinet had sent the ordinance for his approval on October 22.

The draft law was introduced to address the harassment and cyber attack faced by people, especially women and the transgender community, on social media. The CM had said that the law was being introduced to check false allegations raised through social media that malign the dignity of individuals.

As per the proposed law, which was cognisable and bailable offence, police can slap criminal charges on any person who creates or sends 'offensive' messages or post. They can get imprisonment up to three years and Rs 10,000 as fine.

This sparked a lot of criticisms against the Kerala government as experts warned misuse of the Act. Many also pointed out that section 118A was repurposing section 118(d) of Kerala Police Act and section 66A of the Information Technology Act, both of which were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2015, for being a threat to freedom of speech and expression.

"Kerala has amended the Kerala Police Act by ordinance that provides jail term for any social media or cyber post that is deemed “offensive” or threatening. This is draconian and bound to be abused to silence dissent. Similar Section 66A of the IT Act was struck down," renowned lawyer Prasanth Bhushan had written on Twitter. Later, when the ordinance was put on hold, he said that he was glad that there are some Chief Ministers who are still sensitive to independent public opinion.

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