Free Speech Of Citizens Cannot Be Muffled By Involving Them In Criminal Cases: SC

Free Speech Of Citizens Cannot Be Muffled By Involving Them In Criminal Cases: SC

The Hon’ble SC while quashing the FIR registered against Shillong Times Editor Patricia Mukhim over his Facebook Post on violence against non-tribal people in Meghalaya also said that the Indian Constitution grants freedom of Free speech to its fellow citizens residing in the country. Which cannot be restrained by involving them in criminal cases, unless such speech has the propensity or a bent to affect the public order.

The Hon’ble bench while quashing the FIR registered against the Editor also noted that the Facebook post was posted by the editor pointing against the concern shown by the Hon’ble CM of Meghalaya, the Director-General of Police, and the Dorbar Shnong of the area in not taking any action against the wrongdoers who attacked the non-tribal teenagers. 

The Hon’ble court additionally held that Condemnation of governmental procrastination cannot be registered as an attempt to indorse hatred between diverse groups. Subsequently, the Hon’ble court accepted the appeal filed by the editor challenging the order passed by the Hon’ble Meghalaya HC which obligated and discharged the editor’s petition to quash the FIR. 

Additionally, while referring to Sections 153 A and 505 (1) (c) of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 (hereinafter referred to as “IPC, 1860”) the Hon’ble bench stated that only where the written or spoken words have the propensity of generating public disorder or trouble of law and order or affecting public tranquility, then the prevailing law needs to step in to avoid such activity. 

The intent to cause disorder or provoke people to violence is the sine qua non (meaning, “without which it could not be”) of the offence under Section 153 A IPC, 1860 and the prosecution has the onus to prove the existence of mens rea to succeed and go ahead. 

The idea of the offence under Section 153 A IPC, 1860 is the “intention to promote feelings of enmity or hatred between different classes of people”. Necessary to mention that the intention has to be judged primarily by the language of the piece of writing and the circumstances in which it was written and published. The matter complained of within the ambit of Section 153A must be read as a whole. One cannot rely on strongly worded and isolated passages for proving the charge nor indeed can one take a sentence here and a sentence there and connect them by a particular process of inferential reasoning. 

While mentioning the Facebook post made by the editor the Hon’ble bench observed that the present petition filed by the editor for guarding non-tribal living in the State of Meghalaya and for their equality cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be categorized as hate speech. 

At the most, the Facebook post can be understood to spot the discrimination against non-tribal in the State of Meghalaya. However, the petitioner made it clear that unlawful elements have no communal and instantaneous action that has to be taken contrary to individuals who had indulged in the ruthless attack on non-tribal youngsters playing basketball. 

The Facebook post read in its entirety begs for equality of non-tribal in the State of Meghalaya. The Hon’ble also stated that there was no aim on the part of the Appellant to promote class/community hatred. As there is no attempt made by the Appellant to provoke people belonging to a community to indulge in any violence, the basic elements of the offence under Sections 153 A and 505 (1) (c) therefore 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 establish any offence or make out a case against the accused, hence, the FIR is liable to be quashed. 

Lastly while allowing the appeal filed by the appellant, the Hon’ble Court observed that India being a state made up of plural and multicultural society. The promise of liberty, enunciated in the Preamble, establishes itself in various provisions which outline each citizen’s rights; which also included their 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 Hon’ble court also noted that there are times, when the legitimate exercise of such a right, individuals travel, settle down or carry on an inclination in a place where they find conditions favorable, there may be dislikes, especially if such citizens prosper, leading to hostility or possibly violence. 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. 

Case: Patricia Mukhim Vs State Of Meghalaya [CrA 141 of 2021] 

Coram: Justices L. Nageswara and S. Ravindra Bhat 

Counsel: Adv Vrinda Grover for appellant, Adv Avijit Mani Tripathi for State 

Citation: LL 2021 SC 182

Sneh Somani
Experienced Legal Research Assistant with a demonstrated history of working in the law practice industry. Skilled in Journalism, Research, and Writing. Strong legal professional with a bachelor of arts and law focused in Law from Symbiosis Law School, NOIDA. Engrossed work in Gender studies and Women Empowerment and Contemporary Issues.