New Delhi: After Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan signs the law amending the Kerala Police Law, the police in the Left Front-ruled state will now have the right to prosecute and imprison individuals “for passing, expressing, publishing or disseminating any threatening matter, offensive, humiliating or defamatory ”through“ any means of communication ”.
Imprisonment for this offense may be extended to three years.
The ordinance, approved by the state cabinet last week, introduces a new section, 118A, of the Kerala Police Act. According to state government officials, a new section is needed to address “crimes committed through social media.”
A special provision reads:
“118 A. Punishment for making, expressing, publishing or disseminating any threatening thing, violence, humiliation or defamation. – Who commits, expresses, publishes or disseminates by any means of communication, any matter or object the threat, abuse, humiliation or defamation of a person or class of persons, knowing that it is false and damaging the mind, reputation or property of that person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have an interest, shall be punished by imprisonment which may be extended to three years or by a fine which may be extended to ten thousand rupees or by both. “
The Supreme Court in The case of Shreya Singhal has overturned section 66A of the Information Technology Act and section 118D of the Kerala Police Act, finding that both provisions are unconstitutionally vague and thus violate the rights to freedom of speech.
Section 118D of the Kerala Police Act has punished any person if he in any way provokes any person so far with statements or oral statements or comments or phone calls or calls of any kind or by chasing or sending messages or emails in any way, “
The Supreme Court found that the impugned sections prescribed a series of actions if done electronically, but did not define what terms such as “intimidation,” “threatening,” “persecution,” and “persistent” actually meant.
Kerala’s new ordinance seems to suffer from the same shortcoming, as it is not clear what exactly could constitute a “threatening, insulting, humiliating or defamatory thing”. The police would be left to exercise their discretion, and judges, in the absence of clarity in the law, would probably be able to comply with the police interpretation.
Rights activist Anoop Kumaran, who had previously been prosecuted under section 118D for posting on Facebook and continued to challenge the constitutionality of the provision, described the new section 118A even worse than what the Supreme Court overturned.
The Left Front government says the provision is needed to prevent cyber attacks on women and children, but it is not clear why existing legal provisions covering threats or intimidation cannot apply to the same acts committed electronically.
Opposition parties say the amendment will give more power to police and reduce press freedom, an accusation rejected by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, saying the decision was based on factors such as the misuse of social media to tarnish the image of individuals.
Expressing concern over the rise in crime, bogus propaganda and hate speech on social media since the outbreak of COVID-19, the LDF government said cyber attacks were a major threat to privacy, decided to amend the Police Act as existing legal provisions were inadequate for fight against such crimes.
He said while the Supreme Court repealed section 66-A of the IT Act and section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police Act on the grounds that they were against freedom of expression, the Center did not introduce any other legal framework.
“In this scenario, the police cannot deal effectively with crimes committed through social media,” the government said.
(With PTI inputs)