Context – The Kerala cabinet recommended to the Governor the promulgation of the ordinance to insert Section 118 (A) into the Act.
What is Kerala’s new 118A law?
The new Section 118A has been introduced in the Kerala Police Act, 2011.
According to the new law– The state government recommendation to amend the police act says that if the government finds any media platform including social media producing, publishing or propagating content that could threaten, insult or harm an individual
- The amendment proposes three years in prison and a fine of up to ₹ 10,000 for those found guilty.
- The state officials said this would give law enforcers more teeth to prosecute the guilty, media houses said the law could be used to gag them.
Why the law being criticized?
- The threat to free speech– It is being seen as an attempt to stifle not only dissent but also freedom of speech and expression.
- In 2015, the Supreme Court in the Shreya Singhal case had struck down Section 66A of the Information Technology Act and Section 118D of the Kerala Police Act, finding both provisions unconstitutionally vague and thus violative of free speech rights. [Article 19].
- Vulnerable to misuse– The law is unspecific and indistinct and can be indiscriminately misused by individuals or even the government and the police.
- Granted the police untrammelled authority– It empowers police to suo motu interpret and deal with “offensive” communication and make arrests without a warrant.
- Though the Kerala government claims it is to fight cyber-crimes against women, that has not found any mention in the law either.
What is the way forward?
The amendment would reverse the course of media freedom, muzzle free speech and undermine civil liberties.
- The greatest danger of such legislation is that if the Ordinance is not withdrawn by the Kerala government, it will act as an example to other states to frame similar laws of their own.