The Editors Guild of India on Tuesday urged Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan to withdraw the ordinance empowering the state police to prosecute persons who disseminated information that the law enforcement deemed defamatory. In a statement, the association called the amendment “disturbing”.
Under the newly incorporated Section 118-A of the Kerala Police Act, 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 amendment to the Kerala Police Act would deeply hurt the cause of free speech and freedom of press as it gives unbridled powers to the police to target political opposition and the press in the name of monitoring content on social media,” the statement said. “Editors Guild reiterates immediate withdrawal of this section 118 A of the Police Act.”
Due to intense criticism from Opposition parties, journalists and civil rights activists, the Kerala government had on Monday said it would not implement the amendments. However, Vijayan 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. On Tuesday, state Additional Advocate General KK Ravindranath told the Kerala High Court that there will be no adverse action, registration of FIRs or suo moto cognisance based on the newly-introduced amendment.
Noting this, the Guild said: “Although the government has placed the amendment on hold until discussed by the state Assembly and has given an assurance to the Kerala High Court that the state police will not take any adverse actions, but the ordinance is still in force and has the potential for grave misuse and should be withdrawn forthwith”.