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FPJ Explains: What is Section 118A in Kerala Police Act that may land you in jail for 'defamatory' social media posts?

12:16 PM Nov 23, 2020 | FPJ Web Desk

Kerala Governor Arif Muhammad Khan has signed the Kerala Police Act amendment ordinance, aimed at preventing cyber attacks against women and children, that opposition has alleged would curtail freedom of expression.

The amendment would give more power to the police and also curtail the freedom of the press, the critics said. The LDF government headed by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said the decision had been taken based on factors such asabuse of social media to tarnish the image of individuals.

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Section 118A incorporated in the Act says that anyone creating or sending offensive message or that which is intended to offend or threaten another person, through any means of communication, is liable to face imprisonment of five years or fine of Rs 10,000 or both.

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The law aims to stop bullying, insulting or disgracing individuals through any content and circulating the same through any communication medium. The offenders will be awarded a sentence of five years/penalty of Rs 10,000 or both.

Here is all we need to know about the amendment to Kerala Police Act:

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

2. 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.

3. 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 amajor threat to private life, it has been decided to amend thePolice Act as the existing legal provisions were inadequate tofight such crimes.

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 It said while the Supreme Court had repealed section 66-A of the IT Act and Section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police Act on the grounds that these were against freedom of expression, the Centre has not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

5. According to the amendement, “Whoever makes, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication, any matter or subject for threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation or property of such person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or with both.”

6. A person may face three years in jail and a fine of Rs 10,000 for any social media post that is considered “offensive” or “defamatory”.

7. This will apply to not just those who write or create such a post but also against those who share that post or opinion.

8. Critics say that unspecific and indistinct provisions of the law can be used indiscriminately by individuals, government and the police to harrass those whom they simply disagree with.

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