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The Supreme Court of India
The Supreme Court of India

No meeting until next hearing: SC tells Delhi assembly panel in Facebook case

  • The assembly panel submitted that no coercive action will be taken against Mohan in connection with the summon asking him to depose before it with regard to the northeast Delhi riots

NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed a Delhi assembly panel not to conduct any meeting or summon Facebook India vice-president and managing director Ajit Mohan in connection with the Delhi riots matter till the next date of hearing on 15 October.

The assembly panel submitted that no coercive action will be taken against Mohan in connection with the summon asking him to depose before it with regard to the northeast Delhi riots.

The statement was made before the bench headed by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul in a plea filed by Mohan against the summons issued by the Delhi panel looking into the social media firm’s alleged failure to crack down on hate speech. Mohan argued that such action can only be taken by the Union of India.

The apex court bench, also comprising Justices Krishna Murari and Aniruddha Bose, issued notices to the Delhi assembly, Centre, secretary of the legislative assembly; the ministries of law and justice, home affairs, electronics and IT; Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, represented by the secretary general, and Delhi Police, asking them to respond to the plea.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Facebook, said the committee’s summon orders threatening a private citizen with penalty for non-appearance is a violation of fundamental rights. He asserted that right to speech guaranteed under the Constitution also includes the right to not speak.

Salve said, "As a House (Assembly), you may decide whatever you want to, but if I do not want to participate and give my views before the Committee then...please consider I work for a US-based company. I do not want to comment on this politically sensitive issue."

He argued that Delhi panel is a legislative body and cannot act as a judicial one by summoning and threatening to enforce penalty, “They have no authority of law to process an enquiry of this nature," said Salve.

Senior Advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing chairman of the panel, Raghav Chadha, apprised the bench that the summons were for Mohan to become a witness and no coercive action was ever intended by the Delhi panel. He added, that Facebook was sought to be made party to the enquiry in order to ascertain the safety measures in place to avoid the misuse of the social media platform.

Justice Kaul told Singhvi that the notice did not imply what he had submitted before the court. “If you are trying to change the legal tenor, then it must be in those terms. You may have to take a stand for this Committee... You may have to file an affidavit to clarify this," Justice Kaul said.

Singhvi submitted that meetings scheduled for today have been deferred and added that no further meeting will be conducted till the matter is sub judice in the court. An affidavit addressing the court’s concerns with respect to clarification on the summons order would also be filed, assured Singhvi.

The Delhi assembly committee on peace & harmony had issued a statement on deferring of the meeting and said "In view of the issues of law pending before the Supreme Court, today's proceedings before the Delhi Legislative Assembly’s Committee on Peace & Harmony has been deferred. Further course of action and next date of sitting of committee will be notified in due course.

While seeking directions for the withdrawal of the summons order, Facebook submitted in its petition that Parliament is already looking into the issues raised. It added that being an “intermediary" as defined under the Informational and Technology Act, it is immune from liability for third-party content on the Facebook service. It also alleged that the summons violates its constitutional rights.

The social media platform has faced criticism over allegations that its officials in India ignored anti-Muslim posts by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party leaders in order to push its business in its largest market.

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