The Supreme Court Thursday quashed an FIR against The Shillong Times Editor, Patricia Mukhim, registered for allegedly creating communal disharmony through a Facebook post.
The case started after Mukhim, in a Facebook post in July 2020, demanded legal action against a group of youths who allegedly assaulted six non-tribal youths playing basketball in Lawsohtun.
Mukhim tagged Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and wrote on Facebook that the incident was “unacceptable”. “The attackers, allegedly tribal boys with masks on, should be immediately booked. This continued attack on non-tribals in Meghalaya whose ancestors have lived here for decades, some having come here since the British period, is reprehensible to say the least. The fact that such attackers and trouble mongers since 1979 have never been arrested, and if arrested never penalised according to law, suggests that Meghalaya has been a failed state for a long time now,” she added.
She also wrote, “…what about the Dorbar Shnong of the area? Don’t they have their eyes and ears to the ground? Don’t they know criminal elements in their jurisdiction?…. This is the time to rise above community interests, caste and creed and call out for justice.”
Following this, Lurshai Shylla, the headman, and Bankhrawkupar Sohtun, secretary, of Dorbar Shnong of Lawsohtun, claimed that Mukhim’s Facebook post “incites communal tension and may instigate a communal conflict which may spread to the State…” and lodged an FIR against her.
She was subsequently booked under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc.) and other provisions of the Indian Penal Code.
Mukhim, in November last year, approached the Meghalaya High Court to quash the complaint against her. However, the Court refused to do so and said investigation agencies should be given a free hand to probe the matter.
“In the event, the investigating agency is required to be given a free hand to investigate the matter and to come to its own conclusion in due process of law. Consequently, I find no merit in the instant petition for exercising powers under Section 482 CrPC. This petition is accordingly hereby rejected,” Justice W Diengdoh said.
The court had said that Mukhim’s post attempts to “make a comparison between tribals and non-tribals vis-à-vis their rights and security and the alleged tipping of the balance in favour of one community over the other”. This, the High Court opined, “would fall on the mischief of Section 153A (a) IPC as it apparently seeks to promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between two communities”.
However, the Supreme Court allowed the appeal filed by Mukhim against Meghalaya High Court’s order and quashed the FIR that was filed against her.
The bench, comprising Justices L Nageswara and S Ravindra Bhat, stated that “free speech of the citizens of this country cannot be stifled by implicating them in criminal cases”. “The analysis of the Facebook post written by Mukhim shows that no case of hate speech is made out,” the apex court said. It added that India is a plural and multicultural society and the promise of liberty, enunciated in the Preamble, manifests itself in various provisions which outline each citizen’s rights, including the right to free speech, to travel freely and settle throughout the length and breadth of India.
Reacting to the decision by the Supreme Court, Mukhim wrote on Facebook, “So grateful for this ruling…I owe a debt of gratitude to Vrinda Grover and her team and Kaustav Paul.”
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