SC issues notice to Meghalaya govt in Shillong Times Editor Patricia Mukhim’s case

The Supreme Court Wednesday issued notice to the Meghalaya government on a petition filed by noted journalist Patricia Mukhim against the High Court’s decision refusing to quash a criminal case against her for her Facebook post condemning atrocities on non-tribals in Shillong.

A three-judge led by Justice L Nageshwara Rao after hearing advocate Vrinda Grover, for the petitioner, called for the response of the state government and listed the matter on February 5.

Patricia, who is also the Editor of the Shillong Times, alleged that she was being persecuted for speaking the truth and seeking enforcement of the 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.

Patricia is facing prosecution under Sections 500 (Punishment for defamation), 505(c)[Statements conducing to public mischief] and 153A (Promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language, etc., and doing acts prejudicial to maintenance of harmony) of the Indian Penal Code(IPC).

The plea contended that the offences under Section 500 and 505(c) IPC, being non-cognizable, could not be investigated and prosecuted through the registration of an FIR in view of the statutory bar against such prosecution; the proceedings against the Petitioner stood on a single limb – Section 153A IPC, which, the petitioner said, was not made out against her.

Section 153A IPC could not be invoked in the absence of men’s rea (intent), the petitioner argued.

“The letter and spirit of the Petitioner’s Facebook post can by no stretch of imagination be read as disclosing a malicious intent to incite disharmony, hate or ill-will between groups”, the petition read.

The petition filed through Advocate-on-Record (AoR) Prasanna S and drawn by advocate Soutik Banerjee sought for setting aside of the High Court order.

The High Court had rejected her petition after observing that her  Facebook post sought to create a divide in the cordial relationship between the tribal and non-tribal living in Meghalaya, “even alluding to the role of the State machinery as being biased in this regard.”

In July 2020, while six non-tribal boys of Shillong had gone to a place called Lawsohtun (suburb) to play basketball, around 20 to 25 unidentified boys assaulted them with iron rods and sticks, grievously injuring some of them.

Condemning the violence on the non-tribal youths, Mukhim, on 04.07.2020, appealed to the State authorities and administration to take stringent action as per law against the culprits. She further appealed to the traditional village community body, the Dorbar Shnong to invoke their social clout to end the violence.

A criminal case was also registered in regard to the attack on the non-tribals under sections 326/307/506/34 IPC against the assaulters. Later the Police arrested two persons, both tribal boys, in connection with the case.