New Delhi: Kerala Governor Arif Mohammed Khan has signed the southern state’s Police Act Amendment ordinance, passed by the ruling Pinrayi Vijayan-led LDF government to punish those found guilty of spreading derogatory or defamatory by any means of communication, including social media. Also Read - Kerala Govt Decides to Bring Out Ordinance to Withdraw Amendment to Kerala Police Act

Under the amended sections of the legislation, the accused (who produce, publish or disseminate content through any means of communication with an intention to intimidate, insult or defame any person through social media), may face imprisonment for up to five years or a fine of up to Rs 10,000 or both. Also Read - Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan Puts Controversial State Police Act Amendment on Hold

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. Also Read - Kerala Police Act Amendment Against Freedom of Speech, Says Opposition; CM Defends Move

It said while the Supreme Court had repealed section 66-A of the IT Act and Section 118 (d) of the Kerala Police Act on the grounds that these were against freedom of expression, the Centre has not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 stated.

The Opposition parties, on the other hand, claimed that the amendment would give more power to the police and also curtail the freedom of expression.

“When the Supreme Court took a stand against such a law in 2015, CM praised it and made it a political campaign. He’s now is trying to control social and mainstream media by bringing this draconian Act. This law is a sham to prevent violence against women”, said Kerala BJP president K Surendran.

Meanwhile, Chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan clarified that the new amendment to the Kerala Police Act will not in any way be used against free speech or impartial media activity.

“Anyone is free to make any strong criticism within the limits of the Constitution and the legal system. In addition to media freedom, the government has a responsibility to protect the individual liberty and dignity guaranteed by the Constitution”, he asserted.