Kerala Governor signs controversial police act amendment ordinance

Amid protest from the opposition, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan has signed the Kerala Police Act Amendment ordinance to rein in growing cyber attacks against women and children.

The Congress-led opposition has been opposing the ordinance saying it was a move aimed at muzzling media which exposed many alleged omissions and commissions recently. According to the latest ordinance, a police officer can suo motu register a case against the accused and arrest him.

Unlike the defamation case (Sections 499 and 500 of the India Penal Code) which needs a genuine petitioner, the proposed amendment makes it a cognizable offence and any person can file a complaint or a police officer can register a case suo motu against the accused. Many experts have warned that it will be misused and some of the wordings of the ordinance also cover the mass media. Opposition parties earlier urged the Governor not to give his assent to the ordinance.

The government had decided to give more teeth to the Police Act by recommending the addition of Section 118-A. It stipulates either 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 through social media.

But the government defended its position saying existing laws were not effective to deal with such crimes. It also pointed out that the High Court had directed the state chief secretary and DGP in May to initiate effective steps to curtail hate speech and bullying on social media.

“Apprehension in this regard is ill-founded. Our only aim is to curb cyber attacks that are posing a major threat to private life,” said state law minister A K Balan. But the opposition wasn’t convinced.

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“We agree cyber-bullying of women and children should be contained at any cost. But in the guise of fighting cyber crime the government may target journalists who are exposing many misdeeds. Some of the wordings in the ordinance buttress our fear,” said opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala.

The government has decided to speed track the ordinance in the wake of three women activists including dubbing artist Bhagyalakshmi manhandling YouTuber Vijay P Nair last month who had allegedly made derogatory comments against women through his YouTube channel. The High Court had pulled up activists for taking law into their hands but they contended that they filed a complaint but police failed to take any action.

Many cyber and legal experts said there are enough possibilities to misuse the new ordinance. “It will do more harm than any good. No blogger, online media person or cyber activist can write on any topic. It can be used to settle scores. Intention is good, but implementation will be disastrous,” said legal expert and cyber activist Jiyas Jamal.

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