The Meghalaya High Court has refused to quash the criminal proceedings against journalist Patricia Mukhim for her four-month-old Facebook post condemning the attack on five non-tribal youth by a gang of masked men, allegedly tribals, Live Law reported on Thursday.
At a hearing on Tuesday, Justice W Diengdoh said Mukhim’s post “sought to create a divide to the cordial relationship between the tribal and non-tribal living in the state of Meghalaya”.
The court said Mukhim’s post attempts to “make a comparison between tribals and non-tribals vis-à-vis their rights and security and the alleged tipping of the balance in favour of one community over the other”. This, the High Court opined, “would fall on the mischief of Section 153A (a) IPC as it apparently seeks to promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between two communities”.
On July 3, masked miscreants had attacked five boys on a basketball court in Lawsohtun village. No arrests have been made in the case so far. Mukhim, the editor of The Shillong Times and a winner of the Padma Shri, had criticised the Lawsohtun village council for failing to identify the “murderous elements” in the assault case.
In a Facebook post, she called upon Chief Minister Conrad Sangma and the traditional Dorbar Shnong local body to take action against the culprits. “This continued attack on 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,” Mukhim had written. “The fact that such attackers and trouble mongers since 1979 have never been arrested and if arrested never penalised according to law, suggests that Meghalaya has been a failed state for a long time now.”
On July 7, a village council in Meghalaya filed a complaint against Mukhim for her allegedly inciting statements. Based on this, the police registered a criminal case under various sections of the Indian Penal Code against the journalist for promoting enmity between different groups. She was also charged with defamation, among other things. Besides, she was served a notice under Section 41 A of the Criminal Code of Procedure, requiring her to appear before the investigating officer.
Mukhim then moved the High Court. She had contended that her Facebook post only sought to show concern about the handling of the case by police and the Dorbar Shnong. She submitted that the post was made in good faith and in public interest.
Contempt proceedings against Mukhim
In 2019, the Meghalaya High Court had held Mukhim guilty of contempt, along with publisher Shobha Chaudhuri, for two articles published in The Shillong Times.
One of the two pieces related to an order passed by the High Court regarding retirement benefits to judges, according to The Print. The other was a comment on how the order was similar to a previous judgement passed by two other judges, who were about to retire, in suo moto proceedings for enhancing the retiral benefits of judges.
The order was later stayed by the Supreme Court, according to Live Law.