New Delhi, Mar 25 (ILNS) The Supreme Court today quashed the criminal case registered against Editor of Shillong Times Patricia Mukhim, in relation to a Facebook post by her decrying violence against non-tribal people in the state.
The Bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and Ravindra Bhat gave the verdict on a petition filed by Mukhim, against the Meghalaya High Court’s order, dismissing her plea to quash criminal proceedings. The criminal proceedings pertained to a Facebook post published by Mukhim, seeking action by the hill state against an attack on some non-tribal boys in Meghalaya.
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.
Senior Advocate Vrinda Grover, representing Mukhim, said that there was “no assuaging of feelings of a community, which has been attacked brutally.” The petition before the apex court stated that Mukhim is facing persecution for “speaking the truth and seeking enforcement of rule of law against perpetrators of hate crime, in exercise of her fundamental right as guaranteed under Article 19 (1)(a) of the Constitution of India.”
It was submitted that a plain reading of her Facebook post would make it clear that the intent and purpose of the post “is to appeal for impartial enforcement of rule of law; equal treatment before the law of all citizens; condemnation of targeted violence against members of a minority group; an end to impunity for violence and thereby ensure peace and harmony between communities and groups.”
The plea, filed through Advocate-on-Record Prasanna S, further stated that the offences under Sections 500 and 505(c) IPC, being non-cognisable, cannot be investigated and prosecuted vide registration of an FIR in view of the statutory bar against such prosecution.
The Meghalaya High Court had, on November 10, 2020, refused to quash the criminal proceedings against Mukhim for a four-month-old Facebook post that denounced violence against non-tribals in the state. Justice W Diengdoh said that Mukhim’s post “has sought to create a divide to the cordial relationship between the tribal and non-tribal living in the state of Meghalaya, even alluding to the role of the state machinery as being bias (sic) in this regard”.
The case referred to a Facebook post made by Mukhim, a Padma Shri awardee and the editor of The Shillong Times, on July 4, 2020, where she commented on an alleged attack on a group of boys playing basketball at Lawsohtun, Shillong, a day before. The incident allegedly involved two groups — one consisting of tribal youths and the other consisting of non-tribals.
In her post, she had written that the attack, “where some non-tribal youth playing basketball were assaulted with lethal weapons and are now in hospital, is unacceptable in a state with a government and a functional police force”.
According to the High Court, the Facebook post further said, “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”.
Justice Diengdoh said that her post attempted 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”. The Judge ruled that this “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 the two communities”. ILNS/SNG/RJ