Bengaluru: After facing a backlash not just from the Opposition but his own CPI (Marxist) party, Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan Monday announced that his government will not implement for now a controversial ordinance meant to tackle cyberbullying in the state.
The state government had through an ordinance inserted Section 118A into the Kerala Police Act, which states that those found publishing, producing or disseminating content with an intention to intimidate, insult or defame any person through social media will face a jail term of three years, fine of Rs 10,000 or both.
The ordinance was signed by Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan Saturday, sparking a furore and allegations that it was ‘draconian’.
On Monday, Vijayan announced that his government will keep the new law in abeyance and that it will not be implemented until it is discussed in the state assembly.
“After the amendment was announced, we received a lot of opinions from various quarters including those supporting the LDF who expressed concern on the decision,” a statement from the Chief Minister’s Office said. “Under these circumstances, it has been decided not to implement the amendment for now.”
The announcement came minutes after CPI(M) general secretary Sitaram Yechury said the ruling Left Democratic Front (LDF) in Kerala will “reconsider” the ordinance.
Decision could be scrapped
When Yechury was specifically asked if reconsidering the decision meant toning down the Act, he indicated that it could “possibly be scrapped”.
Sources in the Kerala LDF confirm to ThePrint that the government is likely to scrap the ordinance.
“CPI general secretary D. Raja also raised concerns about the ordinance and conveyed his opinion to CM Vijayan. He also communicated that the party leadership did not concur with the ordinance,” a Kerala CPM leader told ThePrint on condition of anonymity.
The amendment had led to accusations that the government was looking to muzzle the press in the state. “The government has been planning to take control of the media in the disguise of controlling cyber bullying. However, the amendment doesn’t specifically mention cyber bullying but ‘mass media’. This means, all media fall under this purview,” K.P. Reji, Kerala Union of Working Journalists (KUWJ) president, had earlier told ThePrint.
Leader of the Opposition in the Kerala Assembly, the Congress’ Ramesh Chennithala, called the amendment an infringement on the basic fundamental rights assured by the Constitution.
“The ordinance passed by the Left government is anti-democratic and anti-social,” he told ThePrint. “None of this was discussed with anything of the political parties and the decision was taken unilaterally. We have sent a letter to the Kerala governor explaining this.”
The chief minister had attempted to defend the ordinance Sunday. He had issued a statement, saying the legislation will not be used against freedom of speech or impartial journalism, describing such fears as unfounded.
Vijayan said his government had no intention to gag the media and they have always endeavoured to uphold the freedom of the press. He also said his government has been receiving repeated complaints of cyberbullying, especially targeting women and children.
“Many cyber bullies were using different media to try and settle scores, which will not be allowed,” the CM’s statement Sunday said.