Free speech of citizens can’t be stifled with criminal cases: SC

NEW DELHI, MAR 25 (AGENCIES) | Publish Date: 3/25/2021 1:13:02 PM IST

Supreme Court Friday said that free speech of the citizens of the country cannot be stifled by implicating them in criminal cases, unless such speech has the tendency to affect public order.

A bench comprising Justices L. Nageswara Rao and S. Ravindra Bhat said India is a plural and multicultural society and the promise of liberty, enunciated in the Preamble, manifests itself in various provisions which outline each citizen’s rights; including right to free speech, to travel freely and settle throughout the length and breadth of India.

The observation by the top court was made while quashing the FIR registered against Shillong Times Editor Patricia Mukhim on a Facebook post on violence against non-tribal people in Meghalaya. The bench said when allegations in the FIR or the complaint do not prima facie constitute any offence or make out a case against the accused, the FIR is liable to be quashed.

“As there is no attempt made by the appellant (Mukhim) 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,” it said.

The bench said a close scrutiny of the Facebook post indicate Mukhim’s agony was directed against the apathy shown by Meghalaya chief minister, DGP and the Dorbar Shnong (Khasi village institutions) of the area in not taking any action against the culprits who attacked the non-tribals youngsters.

“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 bench said.

Justice Rao, who wrote the verdict on behalf of the bench said: “At times, when in the legitimate exercise of such a right, individuals travel, settle down or carry on a vocation in a place where they find conditions conducive, there may be resentments, especially if such citizens prosper, leading to hostility or possibly violence.


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