Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan speaking on the amendment to the Kerala Police Act said that the legislation “will in no way be used against free speech or impartial journalism”.

The opposition alleges that the ordinance could be used to muzzle a free press and target critics of the government.

The ordinance, signed by Governor Arif Mohammed Khan yesterday, punishes those guilty of spreading content by any means, including social media, which is said to be derogatory or defamatory.

For violation, the punishments of up to three years jail, a fine of Rs 10,000 or both are allowed under the amended law.

CM said that while the state had a duty to protect individuals’ liberty and dignity, no action would be taken against the media or those who criticise the government “within the limits of the Constitution”.

“The new amendment made to the Kerala Police Act will in no way be used against free speech or impartial journalism. Apprehensions to the contrary are unfounded,” a statement from the Chief Minister’s Office said.

“Along with ensuring freedom of press, the Government also has the responsibility of upholding a citizen’s individual freedom and his/her dignity, as enshrined in the Constitution. The popular idea that one’s freedom ends where the other’s nose begins needs to be respected. However, there have been instances of this idea being repeatedly violated,” the statement said.

Referring to “the use of personal likes, or dislikes, political or non-political interests… to unsettle the peaceful atmosphere of families… to settle scores”, the Chief Minister said in his statement that such attacks did not fall under the category of journalism.

“They are simply personal vendetta in action (and) many a time, monetary interests are behind such devious designs,” Vijayan added, noting that his government was “repeatedly receiving complaints against the misuse of social media, especially by certain online channels”.