A controversial move in Kerala to enable arrests for content or social media posts deemed “offensive” has been put on hold after a severe backlash. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said today that the amendment to the Kerala Police Act “will not be implemented”.
“With the announcement of the amendment, different views arose from different quarters. Concerns were expressed by those who supported LDF and those who stood for protection of democracy. In this situation, it’s not intended to amend the law,” Pinarayi Vijayan said.
He added: “Detailed discussions will be held in the assembly and further steps will be taken in this regard after hearing the views of all parties.”
There has been massive criticism of the Kerala government’s move, which the opposition had said could be used to suppress free speech, silence critics and target the media.
On Sunday, in a detailed defence of his government’s move, the Chief Minister had said the amendment to the Kerala Police Act “will in no way be used against free speech or impartial journalism”.
An ordinance or special order signed by Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on Saturday sought to punish those guilty of spreading content by any means (including social media) that was said to be derogatory or defamatory. Offenders could face up to three years in jail, a fine of Rs 10,000 or both.
Mr Vijayan said the state had a duty to protect individuals’ liberty and dignity, but that no action would be taken against the media or critics who stay “within the limits of the Constitution”.
“The new amendment will in no way be used against free speech or impartial journalism. Apprehensions to the contrary are unfounded,” the Chief Minister’s Office said.
“Along with ensuring freedom of press, the Government also has the responsibility of upholding a citizen’s individual freedom and his/her dignity, as enshrined in the Constitution. The popular idea that one’s freedom ends where the other’s nose begins needs to be respected. However, there have been instances of this idea being repeatedly violated,” the CMO statement added.
Referring to “the use of personal likes, or dislikes, political or non-political interests… to unsettle the peaceful atmosphere of families… to settle scores”, the Chief Minister said in his statement that such attacks did not fall under the category of journalism and were “personal vendetta”.
Mr Vijayan said his government had “repeatedly received complaints against the misuse of social media, especially by certain online channels”.