Kerala BJP Chief K Surendran Petitions HC Against Cybercrime Law

The law replaces the defunct Sec 66A of IT Act, which made posting ‘offensive’ remarks online a punishable crime.

2 min read
File image of Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan.

Kerala BJP President K Surendran, Revolutionary Socialist Party (RSP) leaders NK Premachandran, Shibu Baby John, and AA Azeez on Monday, 23 November, submitted petitions in the Kerala High Court challenging Section 118A of the Kerala Police Act, ANI reported.

The court will hear the petitions on Tuesday.

On Sunday, The News Minute reported that Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan had signed the Kerala Police Act Amendment ordinance, an attempt by the Left government in the state to prevent cyber attacks against women and children. The Opposition had alleged that this would curtail freedom of expression.

A Raj Bhavan source told PTI that Governor Khan signed the ordinance which had triggered a widespread row in the southern state.

In October, the state Cabinet had taken a decision to give more strength to the Police Act by recommending that Section 118-A be added. This replaced the defunct Section 66A of the Information Technology Act, under which posting ‘offensive’ comments online was a punishable crime, the report said.

The addition to the Act provides for 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.

What Is the Argument Against It?

Opposition parties have alleged that the amendment would give more power to the police, while curbing the freedom of the press. However, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan rejected this charge, saying that the call had been taken based on factors such as abuse of social media to harm the image of individuals.

Experts have disagreed with the state’s action move and cautioned against it.

When the Supreme Court struck down Section 66A of the IT Act and Section 118D of the Kerala Police Act, it held speech to a standard where advocacy is fine but incitement to violence is not, journalist Nikhil Pahwa had earlier told TNM.

“I would doubt that this will survive constitutional scrutiny of the Supreme Court. The Kerala government would do well to not impose such draconian considerations on citizens, and learn from the mistakes they made with Section 118-D,” he had said.

The LDF government gave reasons for the amendment such as the rising crime graph, fake propaganda and hate speech on social media since the outbreak of COVID-19.

The News Minute reported that the Kerala government maintained that while the Supreme Court had repealed Section 66-A of the IT Act and Section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police Act on the basis 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 reportedly said.

(With inputs from ANI and The News Minute.)

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