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Explained: What is 118a of the Kerala police act?

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Thiruvananthapuram, Nov 23: The CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Government in Kerala on Monday put on hold implementation of the controversial Kerala Police Act Amendment ordinance citing criticism from various quarters.

Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said his government was not intending to implement the amendment act now as even those who supported the LDF and those who stood for protection of democracy expressed concern about it.

Explained: What is 118a of the Kerala police act?

The opposition parties had alleged that the amendment would give more power to the police and also curtail the freedom of the press, the charge which was rejected by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said the decision had been taken based on factors such as abuse of social media to tarnish the image of individuals.

The state cabinet, last month, had decided to give more teeth to the Police Act by recommending addition of Section 118-A.

It stipulates either imprisonment for up to five years or a fine of up to Rs 10,000 or both to those who produce, publish or disseminate content through any means of communication with an intention to intimidate, insult or defame any person through social media.

Expressing concern over the rising crime graph, fake propaganda and hate speech on social media since the outbreak of COVID-19, the LDF government had said since cyber attacks are a major threat to private life, it has been decided to amend the police Act as the existing legal provisions were inadequate to fight such crimes.

It said while the Supreme Court had repealed section 66-A of the IT Act and Section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police Act on the grounds that these were against freedom of expression, the Centre has not introduced any other legal framework.

"In this scenario, the police are unable to deal effectively with crimes committed through social media," the government had said.

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Sunday said his government would consider creative suggestions on the controversial amendment to the police act providing for up to five years imprisonment to those making defamatory social media posts as the opposition termed it as an assault on freedom of speech.

Amid widespread concerns that it was a tacit move to silence critics and the media, Vijayan said the government has the responsibility to uphold the freedom of the press as well as that of the citizens. Seeking to allay fears, he maintained that the amendment would not hamper the freedom to criticise.

"The Government will certainly consider all creative opinions and suggestions that are being aired with regard to this amendment," Vijayan said in a Facebook post. Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on Saturday signed the Kerala Police Act Amendment ordinance brought by the Left front government envisaging addition of Section 118-A to prevent cyber attacks against women and children.

The section stipulates either imprisonment for up to five years or a fine of up to Rs 10,000 or both to those who produce, publish or disseminate content through any means of communication with an intention to intimidate, insult or defame any person through social media.

Defending the move, Vijayan said the government was repeatedly receiving complaints even from prominent public and cultural figures against the wide ''misuse'' of social media, especially by certain online channels, he said. "They have brought to the notice of the government instances where inhuman and vile cyber attacks were carried out by some in the guise of journalism and how it even harmed the family lives of many," he said.

The use of personal likes or dislikes, political or non-political interests and so on to unsettle the peaceful atmosphere of families so as to settle scores arising out of revenge cannot be allowed, the chief minister asserted.

"Along with ensuring the freedom of press, the government also has the responsibility of upholding a citizens individual freedom and his/her dignity as enshrined in the Constitution. The popular idea that ones freedom ends where the others nose begins needs to be respected," Vijayan said. Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly Ramesh Chennithala said the amendment was against the freedom of speech expression which is a constitutional right.

"Amendment to Kerala Police Act shows the intolerance of @vijayanpinarayi government over free speech. This amendment is against the freedom of speech expression which is a constitutional right. The new law is a tacit move to silence critics and media. Nothing more, nothing less," the senior Congress leader tweeted. He said the chief minister was trying to scuttle the voice of the Opposition. BJP state chief K Surendran said the addition of Section 118-A was a move against the freedom of expression of the people of the state.

"There is an undeclared emergency in the state," Surendran said at a press meet in Thrissur, questioning the need for the new provision under the guise of countering cyber attacks against women. There were existing laws which needed to be implemented properly to counter such crimes, he said. Vijayan said in the name of the freedom of press, individual freedom cannot be violated and similarly, in the name of individual freedom, the freedom of the press cannot be violated. Only those who think that it was their freedom to wreak havoc in others lives, can see the new law as an affront on their freedom.

"Everybody has the right to make the strongest criticisms. The new amendment will not hamper that freedom in any way. If seen in a positive light, no one can perceive infringement of freedom in it," Vijayan said. He said a persons respect and dignity were essential in a modern society and has constitutional validation which the government has a responsibility to ensure. "In general, traditional media functions within these constitutional limits.

However, certain online media have scant regard for such constitutional provisions and behave as if anything goes, creating an atmosphere of anarchy," Vijayan said. The opposition parties have alleged that the amendment, cleared by the state cabinet last month, would give more power to the police and also curtail the freedom of the press.

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