Facebook Post | Free speech of the citizens of this country cannot be stifled by implicating them in criminal cases: Supreme Court

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  • Post published:March 27, 2021
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The Supreme Court while quashing the FIR, observed that the 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 sequitur of above analysis of the Facebook post made by the Appellant is that no case is made out against the Appellant for an offence under Section 153 A and 505 (1) (c) IPC.

In the instant case, a renowned journalist had uploaded a post on Facebook wherein he criticized the Govt and Police for not taking any action on the persons who had assaulted the non-Tribal youths the day before. The Facebook post reads as follows;

Patricia Mukhim 4 July at 04:07
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Conrad Sangma CM Meghalaya, what happened yesterday at Lawsohtun 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. The attackers allegedly tribal boys with masks on and should be immediately booked. This continued attack of 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. The fact that such attacker and trouble mongers since 1979 have never been arrested and if arrested never penalized according to law suggests that Meghalaya has been a failed State for a long time now.
We request your government and the police force under the present DGP, R. Chandranathan, to take this matter with the seriousness it deserves. Show us the public that we have a police force we can look up to. And what about the Dorbar Shnong of the area? Don’t they have their eyes and ears to the ground? Don’t they know the criminal elements in their jurisdiction? Should they not lead the charge and identify those murderous elements? This is the time to rise above community interests, caste and creed
and call out for justice.
We hope that this will not be yet another case lost in the Police files. We want action. Criminal elements have no community. They must be dealt with as per the law of the land.
Why should our Non-Tribal brethren continue to live in perpetual fear in their own state? Those born and brought up here have as much right to call Meghalaya their State as the indigenous Tribal does. Period.

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Consequently the Headman and the Secretary, Dorbar Shnong, Lawsohtun, Shillong filed a complaint with the Superintendent of Police, East Khasi Hills, Shillong, Meghalaya that the statement made by the Appellant on Facebook incited communal tension which might instigate a communal conflict.

On the basis of the complaint, FIR was registered against the appellant under Section 153-A IPC. On approaching the High Court for quashment of FIR, the High Court opined that reference to the attack on the non-tribals in the State of Meghalaya by the tribals has propensity to cause a rift between two communities. The High Court had observed that the Facebook post sought to arouse feelings of enmity and hatred between two communities, the High Court held prima facie an offence under Section 153 A IPC was made out.

Observations of the Court:

The Court after placing reliance on the judgment in Bilal Ahmed Kaloo v. State of A.P and Ramesh v. Union of India and after applying the principles laid down in the cases, the Court observed that the Facebook post would indicate that the agony of the Appellant was directed against the apathy shown by the Chief Minister of Meghalaya, the Director General of Police and the Dorbar Shnong of the area in not taking any action against the culprits who attacked the non-tribals youngsters. The Appellant referred to the attacks on nontribals in 1979. At the most, the Facebook post can be understood to highlight the discrimination against nontribals in the State of Meghalaya.

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However, the Appellant made it clear that criminal elements have no community and immediate action has to be taken against persons who had indulged in the brutal attack on non-tribal youngsters playing basketball.

The Facebook post read in its entirety pleads for equality of non-tribals in the State of Meghalaya. In our understanding, there was no intention on the part of the Appellant to promote class/community hatred. As there is no attempt made by the Appellant to incite people belonging to a community to indulge in any violence, the basic ingredients of the offence under Sections 153 A and 505 (1) (c) have not been made out

The Court further observed that 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.

The Court noted;

It was a call for justice – for action according to law, which every citizen has a right to expect and articulate. Disapprobation of governmental inaction cannot be branded as an attempt to
promote hatred between different communities. 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 sequitur of above analysis of the Facebook post made by the Appellant is that no case is made out against the Appellant for an offence under Section 153 A and 505 (1) (c) IPC.

On the basis of the above circumstances, the Court allowed the appeal and set aside the judgment of the High Court and also quashed the FIR.