Kerala Governor recently signed an ordinance amending the law to give the police more powers to prosecute persons who exploit various communication platforms to slander fellow citizens.
In Focus –
- The ordinance has introduced a new provision, Section 118-A, to the Kerala Police Act, 2011.
- The amendment proposes three years of imprisonment and a fine of up to ₹10,000 for those convicted of producing, publishing or disseminating derogatory content through any means of communication to intimidate, insult or defame any person.
- The drastic amendment to the Kerala Police Act, 2011, would give the local law enforcement more powers to curb defamation.
- The ordinance would allow whimsical interpretations by law enforcement agencies.
- Opposition parties, journalists’ bodies and civil rights activists see it as a threat to the freedom of the press and free speech in the State. It is argued that the amendment would reverse the course on media freedom, muzzle free speech and jeopardize civil liberties.
- It is opined that conferring power on the police to gauge mental injury, loss of reputation and such matters due to dissemination of information would result in widespread abuse.
Section 66 A of the Information Technology Act, 2000:
- In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, which gave the government power to arrest and imprison an individual for allegedly offensive online posts.
- The court ruled that as it did not distinguish between speech that was merely “offensive or annoying” and that which was guilty of inciting a disruption of public order, Section 66A was liable to have a chilling effect on free speech.
- The same judgment also declared as invalid Section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police Act, which prescribed a jail term for those who caused annoyance to others by indecent statements, comments, calls or messages.
In effect, the new ordinance tries to resurrect a section struck down as unconstitutional by the apex court.
- Despite the guarantees in the Constitution, free speech, dissent and even legitimate criticism is looked at as an exercise in bad faith, and projected as an attack on democratically elected authority. As a result, existing laws are being weaponised to arrest journalists and citizens for a tweet or a slogan or a Facebook post.
- The ordinance decides to strike a blow against liberty and is a sign of an endemic intolerance to dissent, cutting across ideological lines.
- The institutions of a mature democracy should shrug off such comments.
- The Kerala government must withdraw an ordinance that does not pass the constitutional test.