New Delhi: Senior Congress leader and former Union Home Minister P Chidambaram has joined the critics of the amendment to the Kerala Police Act which many fear would curtail the freedom of expression.
Chidambaram said he was "shocked" by the Kerala government's move to issue an ordinance to ensure stringent punishment for those found guilty of offensive social media posts.
"Shocked by the law made by the LDF government in Kerala, making so-called offensive posts on the social media punishable with 5 years in prison," he tweeted.
Chidambaram wondered how CPM general secretary Sitaram Yechury would defend the decisions of the state government led by his party.
Kerala Governor Arif Mohammad Khan has given nod to the ordinance to amend the Kerala Police Act to provide for a jail term for social media posts deemed offensive or threatening.
Section 118A incorporated in the Act says that anyone creating or sending an 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 a fine of Rs 10,000 or both.
The opposition parties had alleged that the amendment would give more power to the police and also curtail the freedom of the press, the charge which was rejected by Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan saying the decision had been taken based on factors such as abuse of social media to tarnish the image of individuals.
The state cabinet, last month, had decided to give more teeth to the Police Act by recommending the addition of Section 118-A.
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 a major threat to private life, it has been decided to amend the police Act as the existing legal provisions were inadequate to fight such crimes.
It said while the Supreme Court had repealed section 66-A of the IT Act and Section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police Act on the grounds that these were against freedom of expression, the Centre has not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.
"In this scenario, the police are unable to deal effectively with crimes committed through social media," the government had said.
Chidambaram also lashed out at the LDF government and said: "Also shocked by the attempt to implicate Leader of Opposition Ramesh Chennithala in a case where the investigation agency had filed a closure report four times."
"How will my friend Sitaram Yechury and CPM defend these atrocious decisions?" he added.
Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had okayed the investigations against Chennithala in the bar scam case of 2015.
(With inputs from agencies)