Kerala govt assures no misuse of amended Police Act, BJP to approach HC

Thiruvananthapuram: Facing mounting criticism over its controversial amendment to the Police Act, the Kerala government on Monday said it would take all necessary steps to ensure that the law brought with “good intention” to check cyberbullying was not misused.

Amid concerns that the amended law was an assault on freedom of speech and media, the BJP said it would approach the Kerala High Court against the implementation of the new provision that provides for imprisonment up to five years to those making defamatory social media posts.

The Congress, which has dubbed the amendment as a tacit move to silence critics and media, staged a protest march.

Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan on Saturday signed the Kerala Police Act Amendment ordinance brought by the CPI-M led Left front government envisaging addition of Section 118-A to prevent cyber attacks against women and children.

State Law Minister A K Balan on Monday assured there was no need for any concern regarding the new amendment and said it was made in accordance with the changing times.

The provision was brought in with the good intention to check cyberbullying, especially against women, and not aimed at curtailing the freedom of the Press, he said.

“The government will take all necessary precautions to ensure that the act is not misused. It will be implemented only after addressing all concerns in this regard,” he said in Palakkad.

The minister described as wrong propaganda that offences, registered under the act, were non-bailable and would invite imprisonment for five years.

“Even if it is a cognizableoffence, it is bailable under the act,” Balan added.

Meanwhile, state police chief Loknath Behera has said a special Standard Operating Procedure (SoP) would be prepared before taking any action under the amendment.

The SoP would be prepared in consultation with legal experts, he said.

“This is to ensure that the ordinanceis not misusedin any way,” the top officer said in a statement.

BJP state president K Surendran said he would approach the Kerala High Court against the implementation of the amended Kerala Police Act.

“It is an infringementon the freedom of expression and violation of constitutional rights. The BJP will fight it legally and politically. I will approach the Kerala High Court against it,” he told reporters.

The Congress took out a protest march to the Secretariat, the administrative hub here, alleging that the amended Act would curtail the freedom of the press.

As the ordinance has invited criticismfrom across the country, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had on Sunday said his government would consider creative suggestions on the amendment.

He had also said the government has the responsibility to uphold the freedom of the press as well as that of the citizens andmaintained that the amendment would not hamper the freedom to criticise.

The section 118-A 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.

The opposition parties have alleged that the amendment, cleared by the state cabinet last month, would give more power to the police and also curtail the freedom of the press.

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