Arif Mohammad Khan, the Kerala Governor, signed off a controversial ordinance introduced by the Left government in the State on Saturday (21st November 2020) which amends the Kerala Police Act, 2011.
The amendment states Section 118A to criminalise certain classes of communication and publications. This new provision makes any expression, publication or dissemination of threatening, abusive, defamatory or humiliating content made through any mode of communication punishable if the person does it knowing it to be false and damaging to reputation or mind of another person. A person, if convicted for the offence, can be punished with imprisonment of upto 3 years or fine of Rs. 10,000 or both.
On October 21, 2020, a press release by the Kerala government, had pointed out that the Central government has not introduced a new provision to replace Section 66-A of the Information Technology Act and Section 118(d) of the Kerala Police Act after they were struck down by the Supreme Court in 2014. It also stated that the Kerela cabinet took this step due to the lacuna in the existent legal framework. The Supreme Court on the ground that it was against freedom of speech and expression and vague and prone to misuse had quashed the Section 66-A
of the IT Act 2000
and Section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police Act 2011. Section 66-A was a provision in the Information Technology Act, 2000 that punished the transmission of offensive messages by way of a computer device. Offensive messages were described as any information that wasgrossly offensive or menacing character,
information known to be false transmitted to cause annoyance, criminal intimidation, danger, enemity, hatred etc, or emails that caused annoyance or inconvenience. One of the reasons cited for introducing this provision was the growing number of crimes against women committed in the State through social media. Crimes against women over the internet,fake propaganda and hate speechspiked in the wake of the pandemic according to the announcement. A Kerala High Court Order passed in May was referred to while giving the October 21 press release that recommended the introduction of appropriate laws tocurtail social media war.
An imprisonment upto 5 years was proposed initially by the cabinet however, the punishment has now been modified to a combination of imprisonment upto 3 years or a fine upto Rs 10,000 or both.