NEW DELHI: “Free speech of the citizens of this country cannot be stifled by implicating them in criminal cases,” the Supreme Court said on Thursday while quashing an FIR against veteran journalist Patricia Mukhim for allegedly creating communal disharmony through her post.
A bench of justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat said the fervent plea made by Mukhim in her FB post for protection of non-tribals in Meghalaya and for their equality cannot, by any stretch of imagination, be categorized as hate speech. The analysis of her post shows no case of hate speech is made out, it said. “Disapprobation of governmental inaction can’t be branded as an attempt to promote hatred between different communities, it said.
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 bench said. It said 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 right to free speech, to travel freely and settle throughout the length and breadth of India.
Justice Rao, who wrote the verdict on behalf of the bench said: “At times, when in the legitimate exercise of such a right, individuals travel, settle down or carry on a vocation in a place where they find conditions conducive, there may be resentments, 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 really a cry for anguish, for justice denied – or delayed. This is exactly what appears to have happened in this case. ”
The SC said that a close scrutiny of the Facebook post would be expected that the agony of Mukhim was directed against the apathy shown by the Meghalaya CM, the DGP and the Dorbar Shnong of the area in not taking any action against the culprits who attacked the non -tribal youngsters.
“For the aforementioned reasons, the appeal is allowed and the judgment of the high court is set aside. FIR … dated July 6, 2020 registered at police station Laban is quashed, ”the bench said. Dealing with the post written by Mukhim, it said, “The appellant referred to the attacks on non-tribals in 1979. At the most, the Facebook post can be understood to highlight the discrimination against non-tribals in Meghalaya.”