Kerala withdraws ordinance criminalising online defamation, says it will revise the law

Besieged by criticism from ideological allies and political adversaries alike, as well as two court challenges, Kerala will not be enforcing its criminalisation of online defamation, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said.

An Additional Secretary at Kerala’s Home Department, who wished to remain anonymous, acknowledged seeing news reports of the withdrawal, but said that no official communication had been received regarding the u-turn as yet. The timing seems somewhat last minute, as the ordinance had been in the works since October, when it was announced, and promulgated by the governor, a whole month after it was publicly announced. Vijayan added that the ordinance will go through a legislative consultation before being revised.

In addition to two court challenges at the Kerala High Court — one each from the BJP and the UDF, the two largest opposition entities in the state — the ordinance ran into opposition from all quarters. Kavita Krishnan, an activist and politburo member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist–Leninist), criticised the CPI(M)-led government in Kerala for the ordinance. “CPI(M) is opposed to draconian laws in India, defends free speech. Please don’t shame the Left by having a CPIM Govt enact a draconian law,” Krishnan said. Congress Member of Parliament Shashi Tharoor, whose party is in the opposition in the Kerala state assembly, called the ordinance “troubling”. The ordinance had initially been announced as a measure to fight online crimes like cyberstalking.