“With the announcement of the amendment, different views arose from different quarters,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said. “Concerns were expressed by those who supported LDF [Left Democratic Front] and those who stood for protection of democracy. In this situation, it’s not intended to amend the law.”
The chief minister added that a detailed discussion will be held in the Assembly on the matter, and further steps will be taken after hearing the views of all the parties.
He defended the legislation, saying that the government had made the amendment to check “malicious campaigns” on social media, which pose a threat to an individual’s freedom and dignity, according to ANI.
“Criticisms and complaints against defamatory, untrue and obscene campaigns have come up from various quarters of the society,” Vijayan added. “Strong protests have emerged from the society on account of the merciless attacks on various sections including women and transgenders.”
He said that there were instances where the integrity of families was affected, resulting in suicides. “Need for legally tackling this was raised even by heads of media houses,” the chief minister continued. “It was in these circumstances that an amendment to the Kerala Police Act was envisaged.”
Meanwhile, Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury also said that the amendments would not be implemented. “The party had proposed (reconsideration) and the state government will now decide on how to go about it,” he said. Yechury added that the manner of handling the amendment was not the decision of the party, but of the government.
Before the government withdrew the legislation, Vijayan, earlier in the day, asserted that it would not curb press freedom and free speech, the Hindustan Times reported. “The new amendment will no way be used against impartial journalism,” Vijayan said. “Apprehensions to the contrary are unfounded.”
The statement released by the Kerala Chief Minister’s Office said that the government has been receiving complaints, including by prominent public figures, of targeted attacks and misuse of social media, especially by some online channels “in the guise of journalism”, reported The Indian Express.
It said that the government was duty bound to protect both press freedom and individual freedom, and that either of them cannot be violated at the cost of other. The statement also referred to social media attacks faced by women and transgender people, claiming that they have resulted in “heart wrenching tragedies” and involve “personal vendetta with monetary interests”.
Communist Party of India (Marxist), the major constituent of the Left Democratic Front government in Kerala, also tweeted saying that “all creative opinions and suggestions” regarding the amendment would be considered.
‘Stifling voices of dissent’
Bharatiya Janata Party Kerala unit president K Surendran and Revolutionary Socialist Party leaders NK Premachandran, Shibu Baby John and AA Azeez moved the Kerala High Court challenging the newly-incorporated Section 118-A of the controversial law, ANI reported. The High Court will hear the petition on Tuesday.
Congress leader Oommen Chandy said the law was harsh and can be misused to stifle free speech. “The ulterior motive of the LDF [Left Democratic Front] Government in Kerala is to silence dissenting voices,” he said in a tweet. “This will only expose their own insecurity to the people who would have the biggest tool of expressing next year.”
Indian Union Muslim League leader and former minister ET Muhammed Basheer said the law was an assault on press and free speech. In a tweet, he said that it was shameful that the state government used the same route as the BJP-led Centre in “stifling the voices of dissent.” “The amendment will bring shame on the entire state which prides itself as the most ‘woke’ state.” he said.
The Kerala government’s move was also criticised by activists, lawyers, political opponents like the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, and even the ruling combine’s ally Communist Party of India.
On Sunday, Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan signed into law an ordinance to introduce an amendment into the Kerala Police Act. Under the amendment that incorporates the new section, 118-A, a person found creating or sending content that is offensive or intended to offend or threaten another person may face three years in prison, a fine of Rs 10,000, or both.
Meanwhile, Kerala Director General of Police Lokanath Behera said that a Standard Operating Procedure will be chalked out, in consultation with legal experts, before taking action based on the amendment, ANI reported. “This is to ensure that ordinance will not be misused in any way,” Behera said.