KOCHI, OCT 23 : The Kerala government’s decision to amend the Kerala Police Act 2011 to curb cyber atrocities, especially against women and children has evoked strong opposition from various quarters. As per the new ordinance a new section, Section 118 – A will be added to the Police Act to give it more teeth. Under the new section, those who produce or publish defamatory or abusive content intended to defame any person through any means of communication can be imprisoned up to five years or a fine of up to Rs 10,000 or with both.
“The increasing rate of cyber atrocities is concerning and women are very much distressed over the recent incidents of online attacks. The cyber attacks are threat to privacy of life as well. It has been decided to amend the Police Act since the existing laws were found to be inadequate to tackle the issue. The state cabinet has decided to recommend the Governor to issue the amendment in the Act as an ordinance,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan wrote in his Facebook page.
“Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act, 2000 and Section 118-D of the Kerala Police Act, 2011 were struck down by the Supreme Court observing that both the laws are against the right to free speech. But, the Union government has not enforced any other law to replace the scrapped ones. In this situation, the police are not able to take strict action against accused in online abuse cases,” said Pinarayi Vijayan.
“Even the Kerala High Court has recently mentioned the hate campaigns through social media and instructed the Chief Secretary and the police chief to take measures to curb such online content. According to reports, there has been a considerable increase in the rate of cyber attacks during the pandemic period. The government has decided to give more teeth to the Police Act, considering all these,” added the Chief Minister.
Meanwhile, the cyber and legal experts have pointed out the possibilities for extensive misuse of the new law.
“The new ordinance is anti-democratic and in violation of the Constitution. The law will lead to violation of citizens’ rights and misuse by police. With the new law in place, defamation will become a cognisable offence and a police officer can register a case and arrest the person. The state government has no right to bring such legislation and anyone can be arrested and put in jail for even criticising the government. This is one of the most draconian laws enforced in the country,” remarked Adv. Harish Vasudevan on his social media page.
Kochi based cyber activist Adv. Jiyas Jamal while strongly criticising the ordinance said, “Despite the fact that the rate of cyber attacks is on the rise, this ordinance will do more harm than good. It will lead to a situation where no one can respond or comment on any topics. I can be booked and put in jail just for making a statement like ‘Pinarayi is a bad chief minister’. No blogger, no online media person or cyber activist can write anything on any topic. All such content can be made as a tool against them.”
“The government should consult experts and representatives of women organisations before bringing comprehensive legislation to curb cyber atrocities. It should not be implemented in haste. The law will adversely impact the politicians and leaders, especially during election times. But, it is a fact that even after quashing the Section 118-D of the Kerala Police Act, 2011, cases were registered under it,” he added.
Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) state president K. P Reji in a Facebook post registered strong objection against the government’s move to include media organisations under the new ordinance.
“Unlike the defamation case, in which a petition has to be submitted, any person can lodge a complaint or even the police officer can register a suo motu case under the new ordinance. The new amendment will create difficulties to media persons as they can be convicted in criminal cases related to any of their news reports,” he said.