In the face of widespread criticism, the Kerala government has officially withdrawn the ordinance that had sought to decriminalise online defamation. The government on Wednesday notified in the state Gazette that the Kerala Police (Amendment) Ordinance, 2020 has been withdrawn. The actual decision to withdraw was made by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan on Monday.
Passed on Saturday, the ordinance criminalised defamation online, with jail time and/or fines for offenders who publish or disseminate such content. The state’s Police Act was amended to make the act of posting defamatory or “humiliating” content online an offence that could be punished by three years of imprisonment and/or a ₹10,000 fine. The stated intent of the ordinance, per the government, was to fight online crimes such as cyberstalking.
The move was widely criticised by civil society groups. It was also challenged in the Kerala High Court in the form of several petitions, including by BJP and UDF leaders. BJP State president K Surendran, in his petition, claimed that the provision was beyond the scope of the Police Act itself. Leaders of the Revolutionary Social Party, a constituent of the UDF, held that the proposed Section 118A suffered “from inherent and incurable vagueness”. During one of these hearings, the state government submitted to the court that it had decided to withdraw the ordinance.