THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: The LDF government came under mounting criticism from opposition parties and activists after an amendment to the Kerala Police Act notified on Saturday gave far-reaching powers to the police to punish, with imprisonment up to three years, anyone who publishes or disseminates -- through any means -- intimidating and defamatory content.
Terming it “draconian” and a “direct attack on free speech”, the opposition parties and activists demanded immediate withdrawal of the controversial amendment.
“This is draconian and bound to be abused to silence dissent,” said Prashant Bhushan, public interest lawyer and activist. In the Kerala Police (Amendment) Ordinance 2020, section 118 A was inserted, which says: “Whoever makes, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication, any matter or subject for threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation or property of such person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to Rs 10,000 or with both.”
Though it was earlier reported that the imprisonment term for such “offences” would be five years, the final gazette notification put the prison term lower, at three years. And while initial reports said the new section is applicable only to social media posts, the notification said “through any kind of mode of communication”, expanding the scope of its interpretation. Home Secretary T K Jose said the cabinet had cleared the period of three years earlier.
“As per my knowledge, it was three years. Whatever is mentioned in the ordinance is final,” Jose told TNIE. Opposition Leader Ramesh Chennithala said the amendment to the Kerala Police Act showed the intolerance of the Pinarayi Vijayan government to free speech.
“The amendment is against freedom of speech and expression which is a constitutional right. The new law is a tacit move to silence critics and the media,” he said.
BJP leader and Union minister of state for External Affairs V Muraleedharan said the ordinance giving arbitrary powers to the police to arrest anyone for expressing their opinion is draconian.
“When the noose tightens around the Chief Minister on the gold scam and the drugs scandal, the CPM-led LDF government is resorting to undemocratic means,” he said.
IUML leader M K Muneer said, “By curtailing freedom of expression and targeting dissenting voices, Pinarayi Vijayan is playing from Modi’s playbook”.