The Kerala High Court on Tuesday recorded the submission made by state Additional Advocate General KK Ravindranath that there will be no adverse action, registration of first information reports or suo moto cognisance based on the newly-introduced amendment to the state Police Act, Live Law reported.
The High Court also recorded Ravindranath’s statement that the state government was taking steps to reconsider the ordinance. The bench, comprising Chief Justice S Manikumar and Justice Shaji P Chaly, was considering a batch of petitions challenging the ordinance as unconstitutional for being an unreasonable restriction on free speech.
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan had on Sunday signed into law an ordinance to introduce Section 118-A into the Kerala Police Act. Under the amendment, 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. The Kerala government’s move was criticised by activists, lawyers, political opponents such as the Congress and Bharatiya Janata Party, and even the ruling combine’s ally Communist Party of India.
During Tuesday’s hearing, the additional attorney general told the High Court that the state government was reconsidering the ordinance and asked the matter to be adjourned till Thursday.
The chief justice, however, said that the ordinance was in force and the police could register FIRs, despite the stand of the government. The bench then asked Ravindranath if he would record a statement saying that no coercive action would be taken. When the additional attorney general agreed, the High Court passed an interim order to record the statement.
The bench also adjourned the hearing till Wednesday to await any developments in the case.
Following widespread criticism over the law, the Kerala government on Monday said it would not implement the amendments. Unidentified officials also told PTI on Tuesday that the government was planning to introduce a new ordinance to withdraw the amendment.
“With the announcement of the amendment, different views arose from different quarters,” Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said on Monday. “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.”
He, however, 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.
“Criticisms and complaints against defamatory, untrue and obscene campaigns have come up from various quarters of the society,” Vijayan said, citing the reason behind bringing the legislation. “Strong protests have emerged from the society on account of the merciless attacks on various sections including women and transgenders.”
Before announcing to withdraw the contentious law, Vijayan had said the criticism was unfounded and that it would not curb press freedom and free speech.
Bharatiya Janata Party Kerala unit president K Surendran and Revolutionary Socialist Party leaders NK Premachandran, Shibu Baby John and AA Azeez had moved the High Court challenging the newly-incorporated section of the controversial law.