By LE Desk

New Delhi, March 25: Frowning at the attempt of branding strong disapproval of government’s inaction by citizens as hate speech, the Supreme Court on Thursday said, “Disapprobation of governmental inaction cannot be branded as an attempt to promote hatred between different communities.”

Examining a petition by Shillong Times Editor Patricia Mukhim, who sought to quash criminal cases lodged against her over a Facebook post, a bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and S Ravindra Bhat 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 Hindustan Times reported.

The Court quashed the criminal case lodged against Mukhim in July last year by terming the complaint against her a “figment of imagination”. She faced proceedings under Sections 153A (promoting enmity or doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony), 500 (defamation) and inciting violence punishable under Section 505(c) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) on a complaint by a village tribal body, locally known as Dorbar Shnong, which was offended by the journalist’s Facebook post of July 4.

In her post, Mukhim had condemned an attack on some non-tribal boys and sought the intervention of the Meghalaya chief minister, also demanding the Dorbar Shnong to take remedial steps against such attacks against non-tribals which have been continuing since 1979.

The bench said, “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.”

Advocate Vrinda Grover, who appeared for Mukhim, had challenged the order of the Meghalaya High Court of November 10, 2020, refusing to stay the proceedings. She claimed that the petitioner had a fundamental right of free speech and liberty under Articles 19(1)(a) and 21 of the Constitution.

The bench said that the fervent plea made by the appellant in her post for the protection of non-tribals living in Meghalaya and for their equality cannot, by any stretch of the imagination, be categorized as hate speech. “…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,” added the bench.

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