The development comes a day after Vijayan had said the amendment “will in no way be used against free speech or impartial journalism”.
He had argued the state had a duty to protect people’s liberty and dignity but that no action would be taken against the media or critics who stay “within the limits of the Constitution”.
He earlier said: “The state government was repeatedly receiving complaints against the wide misuse of social media, especially by certain online channels. Even prominent public and cultural figures had made such complaints. They have brought to the notice of the Government instances where inhuman and vile cyber attacks were carried out by some in the guise of journalism and how it even harmed the family lives of many. It has often turned into targeted attacks using untruths and even sleazy content. Many families are bearing the consequences of such attacks.”
Vijayan’s defence had followed an avalanche of criticism against the “draconian” law.
Governor Arif Mohammad Khan gave his consent on Saturday for an ordinance by the LDF government amending the act that provides for jail term for any social media or cyber post deemed “offensive” or threatening.
The new Section 118 (A) of the act aimed to stop bullying, insulting or disgracing individuals through any content and circulating the same through any communication medium. Offenders are liable to face imprisonment of up to three years or a fine of Rs 10,000 or both.
The specific provision read: “118 A. Punishment for making, expressing, publishing or disseminating any matter which is threatening, abusive, humiliating or defamatory.─ Whoever makes, expresses, publishes or disseminates through any kind of mode of communication, any matter or subject for threatening, abusing, humiliating or defaming a person or class of persons, knowing it to be false and that causes injury to the mind, reputation or property of such person or class of persons or any other person in whom they have interest shall on conviction, be punished with imprisonment for a term which may extend to three years or with fine which may extend to ten thousand rupees or with both.”
Though Vijayan said the amendment has been introduced because of growing abuse on social media that targeted individuals, it was feared it could have an adverse effect on free speech by giving more power to police and restricting freedom of press.
Opposition parties had also expressed concerns over the amendment, with Congress MP Shashi Tharoor calling it “troubling”. He pointed out the amendment was “so loosely drafted it could also be used against political opponents”. Former Union minister P Chidambaram expressing over the governor’s assent to the amendment tweeted: “Shocked by the law made by the Left Democratic Front (LDF) government of Kerala making a so-called `offensive` post on social media punishable by 5 years in prison.”