India

Kerala Governor Signs Contentious Ordinance To Amend Police Act

Kerala Governor Signs Contentious Ordinance To Amend Police Act

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan signed the ordinance on Saturday (File)

Thiruvananthapuram:

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on Saturday has signed into law an ordinance passed by the ruling LDF to amend the southern state's Police Act to punish those found guilty of spreading social media content that is said to be derogatory or defamatory. 

Under the amended sections of the law, the accused may face five years in jail, a fine of Rs 10,000 or both. Government sources say the ordinance protects women and children amid an increase in cyber bullying and hate speech, pointing out that such attacks can be a threat to physical and mental safety of the targeted individual(s).

The amended law allows police to take suo moto action in such cases.

However, the opposition has expressed concern over an amendment they say gives police an unnecessarily great deal more power and potentially curtails the freedom of the press, as well as allowing the state to target critics.

Congress leader P Chidambaram tweeted this morning that he was "shocked" by the new law.

"Shocked by the law made by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government of Kerala making a so-called 'offensive' post on social media punishable by 5 years in prison," he said.

Back in October, when the LDF government recommended the addition of this provision to the Kerala Police Act (2011), its ally, the Communist Party of India (CPI) expressed similar concerns.

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Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had earlier said the number of cyber attacks was "very concerning".

"Cyber attacks are a threat to privacy of life. It has been decided to amend the Police Act since the existing laws are found to be inadequate to tackle the issue. The state cabinet has decided to recommend the Governor issue an amendment to the Act as an ordinance," he wrote on Facebook.

According to news agency PTI, the state government also pointed out that while the Supreme Court had repealed certain other sections - of the Police and IT Act - the centre had not introduced any other legal framework, and this was affecting the police's ability to deal with crimes committed on or via social media.

With input from PTI