In the Left ruled Kerala state of India, a very stringent amendment in the Kerala Police Act has been implemented from Saturday to curb the offensive and defamatory social media posts. The offenders will face five years in jail, Rs.10,000 fine, or both. The controversial Section 118A was added to Kerala Police Act through an ordinance two months ago and now Governor has given consent to it on November 21, ignoring widespread protests against the most stringent provision.
As per the new Section 118A in the Kerala Police Act, police are empowered to register cases against offensive, intimidating, and defamatory content spread on social media platforms including WhatsApp Groups, Twitter, and Facebook.
The cabinet had proposed the 118 (A) amendment to the Kerala Police Act, 2011 on October 21 and the governor had kept it pending till Friday. According to a press note issued by the chief minister’s office on the day the ordinance was approved, the new section says, “anyone who produces content, publishes or propagates it through any means of communication with an intention to threaten, insult or harm the reputation of an individual will be punished with an imprisonment of five years or a fine of Rs 10,000 or with both”.
The government had reasoned that the ordinance was introduced amidst growing complaints about cyber bullying against women and children in which the accused persons couldn’t be restrained by the existing provisions of law. Unlike a defamation case (Sections 499 and 500 of IPC), which needs a petitioner, the proposed amendment is a cognisable offence and any person can lodge a complaint or a police officer himself can suo motu register a case against the accused. Police can arrest the accused named in the FIR without a warrant too.
The opposition UDF and internet and rights organisations had alleged that the amendment would give more power to police and curtail freedom of the press. Rebutting the charge, chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the amendment would not be used against any news media.