Kerala law makes police judge and jury in speech | India News
Kerala’s Vijayan government is coming under fire for hastily drafting an amendment on a sensitive issue without proper debate in the assembly or in the public sphere.
THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: A controversial amendment to the Kerala Police Law came into force on Sunday, giving the police the authority to impose criminal charges through a “subjective interpretation” of communication through any medium as defamatory, even when CM Pinarayi Vijayan tried to allay fears of the new law by threatening “free speech” or “impartial journalism.”
Amendment 118A even cites “mental injury” as a valid reason for imposing charges that stipulate a maximum jail term of three years, a fine of up to Rs 10,000, or both.
Depending on their interpretation of what constitutes a crime under this provision, the police may act without a complaint from the alleged victim.
The 2011 amendment to the legislation has sparked widespread outrage, on social media, among the UDF and BJP opposition, the media fraternity and even within the left-wing coalition. Experts said the amendment had extended the law to such an extent that each communication or publication could be open to subjective interpretation by the police.
“This is manifestly unconstitutional and runs counter to various Supreme Court verdicts. In the UK Prosecution Director v Collins case, the Queen’s court and the House of Lords disagreed on the definition of the phrase ‘extremely offensive’.
When even eminent jurists took diametrically opposite positions on such matters, the new insertion into the Kerala Police Law has left it up to a police officer or anyone to assess whether a communication or publication has caused harm to the mind of a person. “said former Law Secretary BG Hareendranath.
The amendment follows alleged attempts by the state government to wrest control of the political narrative, especially on social media, amid investigations by central agencies into the Life Mission gold smuggling and social housing scam cases. The CPM has boycotted news channels and has refused to participate in debates that include panelists critical of the government. Many see the measure as an attempt to control freedom of expression before the municipal and assembly elections.
Even in the absence of such a law, the LDF government had been imposing cases on critics of Prime Minister Vijayan. Police had recorded cases against 119 people, including 12 government employees, as of June 2019 for allegedly abusing the CM on social media. They were registered for crimes ranging from criminal intimidation to the use of obscene language.
Ironically, the same Kerala high court ruling cited by the government in framing the amendment criticized the police for failing to act promptly on cybercrime complaints filed by women. “It is the duty of the state to maintain public order. Furthermore, according to the existing criminal law, these offenders can be prosecuted, so the state police must be vigilant,” the higher court had observed in the case Sreeja Prasad v. of the Kerala case this year.
In addition to the content of the ordinance that Governor Arif Mohammed Khan gave his assent on Saturday, the government is criticized for hastily drafting an amendment on a sensitive issue without proper debate in the assembly or in the public sphere.