Freedom of Speech And Expression: Kerala Government Pulled Back The Contentious ‘Social Media’ Law Amid Scepticism About Law

by Shatakshi Gupta

The Kerala government has decided to withdraw the much contentious ordinance regarding changes in Police Act, which provided for a punishment of up to 3 years or a fine of Rs 10,000 or both on any objectionable, abusive or threatening post.  The ordinance was approved by Kerala Governor Mohammad Arif Khan on Sunday itself. 

What was the new ordinance of the Kerala government?

The Government of the Left Democratic Front (LDF) of Kerala brought a new ordinance. This ordinance added a new section-118A in the Kerala Police Act. After the new section-118A was added to the Kerala Police Act, the police there would have got more rights.

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 According to Section-118A, if a person posts anything to threaten, humiliate or discredit a person through any kind of communication, any matter or subject, he is imprisoned for up to 3 years or the person has to pay Rs. 10000 fine or both. Section-118A allowed the police to take action in such a case by taking suo-motu cognizance.  Simply put, if the police felt that one of your posts had hurt someone’s honour, then Police could have arrested you.

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 Does this amendment only covers Social Media?

 No, it is clearly written in the added section that if a person is threatened or insulted by ‘any means of communication’, then that person can be punished.  The added section did not say anywhere that it would be applicable only on social media posts. This means that if someone does this through print or electronic media, then he can be punished.

 Was it Needed?

 In 2015, the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act and Section-118D of the Kerala Police Act on the grounds that it violates the Freedom of Speech and Expression.  But, now the Kerala government says that rumours and provocations spread rapidly on social media during the Pandemic.  Cybercrime has also increased.  The government said that cybercrime is threatening the privacy of the people.  Because the Kerala Police has no power to deal with such crimes, this ordinance is being brought.

 Why the government pulled back?

 Protest against this ordinance was started soon. Experts believed that this law could be misused by the government. Those opposing this law said that the government will use it against those who will write or speak anything against the government. People were suspicious over the use of this law to curb freedom of speech.

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Is Freedom of speech an absolute right?

 Our constitution has the right to freedom of speech and expression under Article-19.  But, this does not mean that the person can speak or express whatever he wants.  If any expression harms the security, sovereignty and integrity of the country, contempt of court, insulting a person, then legal action can be taken against him.