Controversy erupted a day after Kerala governor Arif Mohammed Khan signed the Kerala Police Act Amendment ordinance envisaged by the LDF government in the state to prevent cyber attacks against women and children.
The state cabinet, last month, had decided to amend the Police Act by recommending the addition of Section 118-A as the existing laws were not adequate to deal with cyber crimes against women and children as the crime graph is rising since the outbreak of Covid-19.
Under the new amendment, anyone can lodge a complaint against a news item against the media and journalists at any police station. As it is a non-bailable offense, the police will have to file a case if a complaint is received. The police will be empowered to register a case in this regard. Arrests can also be made without a warrant. It can result in imprisonment for up to five 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.
Though it was earlier reported that the imprisonment term for such “offences” would be five years, the final gazette notification put the prison term lower, at three years. And while initial reports said the new section is applicable only to social media posts, the notification said “through any kind of mode of communication”, expanding the scope of its interpretation.
The opposition parties and activists demanded immediate withdrawal of the controversial amendment and had alleged that the amendment would curtail freedom of expression.
The Kerala state government, however, rejected the opposition’s claim, saying that the decision had been taken based on factors such as abuse of social media to tarnish the image of individuals. The government defended its position saying that the existing laws were not effective and the new law will in no way be used against free speech or impartial journalism and apprehensions to the contrary are unfounded.