By Arré Bench Nov. 23, 2020
A recent ordinance from the Kerala government, ratified by the state governor this weekend, could mean that a social media post could easily land someone a five-year jail term and a fine of ₹10,000. It criminalises “abusive, humiliating, and defamatory” content on not just social media, but “any form of communication”.
Arecent ordinance from the Kerala government, ratified by the state governor this weekend, could mean that a social media post could easily land someone a five-year jail term and a fine of ₹10,000. Governor Arif Mohammad Khan approved an ordinance by the Left Democratic Front ruling coalition, incorporating a new section, Section 118 (A), in the Kerala Police Act. It criminalises “abusive, humiliating, and defamatory” content on not just social media, but “any form of communication”. While the state government states the purpose of this promulgation is to curb “unwanted elements on social media”, there are fears that it could be used to gag critics of the government, and have a stifling effect on free speech in general.
Meanwhile in Kerala- new Section 118(A) in Police Act from today-to fix offensive & defaming messages in Social Media. Jail for five years, a fine of Rs 10,000 or both. Interesting thing is Police can decide what is defamation between two parties. Hopefully quashed in Courts 😎
— J Gopikrishnan (@jgopikrishnan70) November 21, 2020
Section 118 (A) is viewed as a successor to Section 118 (D) of the Kerala Police Act and Section 66-A of the IT Act, which were both repealed by Supreme Court. The Kerala government’s rationale for introducing this ordinance is that police are unable to effectively deal with crimes on social media without the legal framework. However, due to its vague wording, it has the potential for abuse by allowing police to arrest anyone, even in the absence of a complainant.
Kerala has amended the Kerala PoliceAct by ordinance that provides jail term for any social media or cyber post that is deemed “offensive” or threatening.This is draconian& bound to be abused to silence dissent.Similar Sec 66A of the IT Act was struck downhttps://t.co/Z6V6EcfFk7
— Prashant Bhushan (@pbhushan1) November 22, 2020
An incident earlier this year where a group of women activists attacked a YouTube blogger for his derogatory comments toward them was said to be one of the reasons the Kerala government is clamping down on what is said on social media. But the route it is taking to get there has many people worried.
Was reading 118A of Kerala Police Act for last few hours. Giving a free hand to the police to clamp down on 'offensive' social media posts might create a huge mess.
Laws against cyber abuse on women & children are needed, but not with such a draconian 118A, which can be misused.
— Advaid അദ്വൈത് (@Advaidism) November 22, 2020
Many critics of the Kerala government’s latest ordinance are hoping that it will be overturned. The Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) had already written to both the governor and the Chief Minister asking that the ordinance not be signed and that more clarity be provided by the government. Indian Express reported that Kerala-based advocate Anoop Kumaran has expressed intentions to challenge the ordinance in the High Court. There is precedent for the judiciary protecting freedom of expression from vague laws.
This fliest straight into the SC doctrines against a criminal speech law having a chilling effect and being overbroad. Also vagueness. Look forward to this being quashed, it's from Kerala, perhaps it will be.
See Shreya Singhal v Union of India https://t.co/sxD9nLVUoV
— Karuna Nundy (@karunanundy) November 22, 2020
With the influence of the internet spreading deeper into our lives, this ordinance in Kerala is another in a long line of battles for free speech online.