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The Kerala Governor, Arif Mohammad Khan on Saturday signed off on a controversial ordinance introduced by the Left government in the State which amends the Kerala Police Act by introducing 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.
A press release dated October 21 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. The lacuna in the existent legal framework led the Kerala cabinet to promulgate the ordinance, it was stated.
Section 66-A of the IT Act 2000 and Section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police Act 2011 were quashed by the Supreme Court on the ground that it was against freedom of speech and expression and vague and prone to misuse.
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 was grossly 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.
The growing number of crimes against women committed in the State through social media was also cited as one of the reasons for introducing the new provision. The announcement declares that crimes against women over the internet, fake propaganda and hate speech spiked in the wake of the pandemic.
The October 21 press release referred to a Kerala High Court Order passed in May that recommended the introduction of appropriate laws to curtail social media war.
Though the cabinet decision had initially proposed a punishment with imprisonment up to 5 years, the punishment has now been modified to a combination of imprisonment upto 3 years or a fine upto Rs 10,000 or both.