The Supreme Court today made a number of interesting observations while quashing the FIR filed against Editor of Shillong Times, Patricia Mukhim.
While doing so, the Court held that the plea made by the scribe for protection of non-tribals living in the State of Meghalaya and for their equality “cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be categorized as hate speech.”
The Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat further stated that “disapprobation of governmental inaction cannot be branded as an attempt to promote hatred between different communities.”
The criminal proceedings against Mukhim pertained to a Facebook post published by her seeking action by the State against an attack on some non-tribal boys in Meghalaya.
On the basis of the post, a case was filed against Mukhim alleging the commission of offences under Sections 153-A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc), 500 (punishment for defamation) and 505 (statements conducing to public mischief) of the Indian Penal Code.
On perusing the Facebook post, the Court came to the conclusion that, there was no intention on the part of Mukhim to promote class/community hatred.
“As there is no attempt made by the Appellant to incite people belonging to a community to indulge in any violence, the basic ingredients of the offence under Sections 153 A and 505 (1) (c) have not been made out. Where allegations made in the FIR or the complaint, even if they are taken on their face value and accepted in their entirety do not prima facie constitute any offence or make out a case against the accused, the FIR is liable to be quashed,” the judgment stated.
The Court further stated that the Facebook post was indicative of Mukhim’s agony, directed against the apathy shown by the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, the Director General of Police, and the Dorbar Shnong (headman) of the area in not taking any action against the culprits who attacked the non-tribal youngsters.
Upholding Mukhim’s right to free speech, the Court ruled,
“Free speech of the citizens of this country cannot be stifled by implicating them in criminal cases, unless such speech has the tendency to affect public order. The sequitur of above analysis of the Facebook post made by the Appellant is that no case is made out against the Appellant for an offence under Section 153 A and 505 (1) (c) IPC.”
In the context of citizens settling down in a conducive place and facing resentment, especially if they prosper, the Court stated,
“In such instances, if the victims voice their discontent, and speak out, especially if the state authorities turn a blind eye, or drag their feet, such voicing of discontent is really a cry for anguish, for justice denied – or delayed. This is exactly what appears to have happened in this case.”