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Meghalaya HC Refuses To Quash Case Against Journalist Patricia Mukhim

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The Meghalaya High Court has refused to quash a criminal case against Padma Shri-awardee journalist Patricia Mukhim for her social media post criticising violence against non-tribals in the state. Mukhim, editor of The Shillong Times newspaper, had written a Facebook post dated July 4, outlining an alleged incident of assault on five non-tribal boys. A complaint had subsequently been filed against her for creating communal tension. The state police had further lodged a criminal case against her, which Mukhim had opposed in a petition. The HC has now refused to quash the said case, deeming her Facebook post divisive.

According to Live Law, the bench comprising Justice W Diengdoh, has ruled that Mukhim’s post is guilty under Section 153 A (a) of the Indian Penal Code, since “it apparently seeks to promote disharmony or feelings of enmity, hatred or ill-will between two communities.”

Also Read: I&B Ministry To Regulate OTT Content And News Portals: Can Free Speech Survive Censorship?

The Case Against Patricia Mukhim

On July 4, Mukhim had reportedly expressed anguish over an incident in Lawsohtun, Shillong, where “masked miscreants had attacked five boys on a basketball court” on July 3. As reported by The Print, Mukhim’s post said, “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.”

She had further criticised the Lawsohtun village council for its failure to maintain order and urged Meghalaya Chief Minister Conrad Sangma to take “action.” She wrote, “Criminal elements have no community. They must be dealt with as per the law of the land.” Following her post, the Lawsohtun council had filed a complaint against her for potentially putting tribal lives in “extreme danger.”

About Mukhim’s post, the HC has decreed, “The author has gone on to assuage the feelings of the non-tribals by posing a question as to why they should live in perpetual fear in their own State… there is an attempt 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.” 

Also Read: Kashmiri Photojournalist Masrat Zahra Booked For Posting Her Work On FB

No “Personal liberty” for her, asks the Internet?

The Meghalaya HC’s decision comes a day after journalist Arnab Goswami’s bail ordered by the Supreme Court on grounds of “personal liberty.” Republic TV editor Goswami had been arrested by the Mumbai Police on November 4 in alleged connection to a 2018 suicide case. Read more on that here. The SC bench of Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice Indira Banerjee, while granting bail to Goswami yesterday, said, “If state govts target individuals, they must realise that there is apex court to protect the liberty of citizens.”

Given the contrast of the judiciary’s ruling, many on the internet, including fellow senior journalists, have called out the judgement, asking if there is no “personal liberty” for a journalist from Shillong.