Supreme Court Quashes FIR against Journalist Patricia Mukhim; Says 'Free Speech Can't Stifled By Implicating Citizens in Criminal Cases' The Supreme Court (SC) ruled on 25 March 2021, in the case titled Patricia Mukhim (Appellant) v. State of Meghalaya & Ors. (Respondents) that "Free speech of citizens' of India cannot be stifled with criminal cases." The Court clarified that it cannot...
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Supreme Court Quashes FIR against Journalist Patricia Mukhim; Says 'Free Speech Can't Stifled By Implicating Citizens in Criminal Cases'
The Supreme Court (SC) ruled on 25 March 2021, in the case titled Patricia Mukhim (Appellant) v. State of Meghalaya & Ors. (Respondents) that "Free speech of citizens' of India cannot be stifled with criminal cases." The Court clarified that it cannot be done unless such speech has the tendency to affect public order.
The SC bench comprising of Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat allowed the Appellant's plea who is a veteran journalist. The Court ordered to set aside the proceedings against her and it stated that "Disapprobation of governmental inaction cannot be branded as an attempt to promote hatred."
The factual background of the case is a complaint was filed by the complainant (Dorbar Shnong, Lawsohtun) with the Superintendent of Police (SP), Meghalaya. It was alleged in the said complaint that the statement made by the Appellant on Facebook incited communal tension which might instigate a communal conflict. It was further alleged in the said complaint that the post of the appellant amounted to defamation.
The FIR was registered by the police and notice was issued to the Appellant under Section 41A of the Criminal Procedure Code (CrPC), directing her to appear in the Police Station.
The Appellant filed Criminal Petition in the High Court of Meghalaya (HC) for quashing the FIR. The HC dismissed it and opined that reference to the attack on the non-tribals in the State of Meghalaya by the tribal has the propensity to cause a rift between two communities.
The Appellant asserted her right guaranteed under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. She voiced her concern about the criminal prosecution resulting in a chilling effect on her fundamental right to free speech. An appeal was filed before the Top Court against the said order of the HC.
Issue before the SC
Whether the Facebook post of the Appellant was intentionally made for promoting class/community hatred and tends to provoke enmity between two communities?
The Top Court closely examine the Facebook post of the journalist that was based on her agony against the apathy shown by the Chief Minister (CM) of Meghalaya, the Director-General of Police (DGP), and the Dorbar Shnong (Khasi village institutions) for not taking adequate action against the offenders who attacked the non-tribal youngsters.
The Apex Court stated that "India is plural and multicultural society. The promise of liberty, enunciated in the Preamble, manifests itself in various provisions which outline each citizen's rights; they include the right to free speech, to travel freely, and settle (subject to such reasonable restrictions that may be validly enacted) throughout the length and breadth of India."
The SC stated that the allegations mentioned in the FIR or the complaint does not prima facie constitute any offence against the appellant and it ruled that the FIR is liable to be quashed.
The Top Court further said that there has been no attempt made by the appellant to incite people belonging to a community to indulge in any violence, and the basic ingredients of the offence have not been made out in the instant case.
Referring to Sections 153 A and 505 (1)(c) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC), the bench observed that only where the written or spoken words tend to create public disorder or disturbance of law and order or affecting public tranquility, the law needs to step in to prevent such activity.
The Court referred to the judgment of Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. State of A.P. (1997) 7 SCC 431, wherein this Court has analyzed the ingredients of Sections 153 A and 505 (2) IPC. It was held that Section 153 A covers a case where a person by "words, either spoken or written or by signs or by visible representations", promotes or attempts to promote a feeling of enmity, hatred, or ill will. Under Section 505 (2) promotion of such feeling should have been done by making a publication or circulating any statement or report containing rumor or alarming news. Mens rea was held to be a necessary ingredient for the offence under Section 153 A and Section 505 (2).
The bench noted that "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 a cry for anguish, for justice denied or delayed. This is exactly what appears to have happened in this case."
The Bench further said that the attack upon six non-locals, carried out by masked individuals, is not denied by the State and its reporting to is not denied. The State issued a press release.
The Court further noted that the fervent plea made by the appellant for protection of non-tribal living in Meghalaya and for their equality cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be categorized as hate speech.
The SC clarified in its judgment that "Free speech of the citizens of this country cannot be stifled by implicating them in criminal cases unless such speech tends to affect public order."
While allowing the appeal and setting aside the order of the HC, the Top Court concluded, "The sequitur of the 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."