5-year jail term for ‘offensive’ post : Kerala’s chilling law

Thiruananthapuram (Kerala) – The Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan has signed an ordinance to incorporate the controversial Section 118 (A) in the Kerala Police Act, making defamation, intimidation and insulting of any person on social media, a punishable offence, with imprisonment of up to five years or a fine of Rs. 10,000 or both.

In its press release, the Government stated the ordinance is to address the concerns of increasing incidents of crimes perpetrated through social media platforms. It is further stated that the existing laws are insufficient to deal with such crimes, especially after the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act and Section 118 (d) of Kerala Police Act.

However, many people have raised concerns about the effects of this chilling law on free speech and freedom of the press, giving more power to the Police and other concerned authorities. Speaking on the same, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan told media that the decision was guided by growing abuse on social media targeting individuals, along with an intention to resolve the issue of fake propaganda, hate speech and so forth.

Leader of Indian National Congress, Ramesh Chennithala said that the amendment would reverse the course on media freedom, jeopardise free speech and civil liberties. He also said that the amendment grants more power to the Police to register cases even in the absence of a specific complaint, including published and broadcast contents.