The Editors Guild of India, on November 22, expressed concerns over a case filed against The Shillong Times editor Patricia Mukhim, over a Facebook post which allegedly "incited communal tension" between the tribal and the non-tribal communities in Meghalaya.
"Mukhim's case is a reflection of the larger threats to freedom of speech in India, which operates under an unwieldy framework of laws that are often used indiscriminately by government and law enforcement agencies to muzzle dissent," a statement released by the press body read.
Case Against Patricia Mukhim
A police case against Mukhim, a Padma Shri awardee, was filed on July 8, over a Facebook post in which she asked for legal action against a group of people who allegedly assaulted six non-tribal youths playing basketball in Lawsohtun on July 3.
The complaint was filed by the Dorbar Shnong of Lawsohtun, against whom the editor had lashed out in her post. The editor was booked under Sections 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc. and other provisions of the IPC.
Mukhim had approached the Meghalaya High Court which refused to quash the police complaint against her.
Raising concern on the case, The Editor's Guild said that multiple legal provisions are being used against free speech and free press.
"Several provisions across multiple laws give a handle to government agencies and law enforcement authorities to lodge criminal cases against journalists wherein the criminal complaint procedure itself becomes an exacting punishment, and acts as a deterrent against the exercise of free speech," the Guild said.
"It is the prime responsibility of the media to question the affairs of the government and report information, however harsh and disturbing it may be," the statement mentioned. "They cannot be held liable for relaying information that may bring to fore details on fault lines within the society, or for that matter, mismanagement and corruption in government affairs," it added.
In its statement, the body also highlighted the need for the higher judiciary to take cognizance of crucial issues that impede freedom of speech. It also mentioned that the judiciary should issue guidelines "to ensure that wanton use of laws does not serve as a deterrent to a free press."
Earlier this week, Mukhim had resigned as a member of the Editors Guild, calling out the organisation for its "complete silence" on the matter.