No coercive action against Facebook India VP, SC tells Delhi Assembly panel; next hearing on 15 Oct

This directive comes a day after Mohan filed a plea in the apex court challenging a fresh summons to appear before a Delhi Assembly panel on peace and harmony probing allegations that the social media giant failed to take action against hate speech.

FP Staff September 23, 2020 17:54:39 IST
No coercive action against Facebook India VP, SC tells Delhi Assembly panel; next hearing on 15 Oct

Supreme Court of India. PTI

The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed a Delhi Assembly panel that no coercive action should be taken against Facebook India vice-president and managing director Ajit Mohan till 15 October when it will next hear the case, according to several media reports.

This directive comes a day after Mohan filed a plea in the apex court challenging a fresh summons to appear before a Delhi Assembly panel on peace and harmony probing allegations that the social media giant failed to take action against hate speech.

A bench comprising of justices Aniruddha Bose, Krishna Murari and SK Kaul also issued notices to the 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, reported news agency PTI.

The committee had, on 10, 18, and 20 September, issued notices demanding that Mohan depose before it. In the latest notice dated 20 September, the panel warned Mohan that failure to appear before it will be held as an act of "breach of the constitutionally-guaranteed privileges" of the committee.

In his apex court plea, Mohan had submitted that the panel was operating out of its jurisdiction and that the issue falls within the domain of the Union government.

Senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Mohan, argued that to coerce a private citizen to appear before the Assembly panel with a threat of penalty amounted to a violation of fundamental rights.

According to LiveLaw, Salve also argued in the court that the Delhi Assembly committee lacked the legislative power to hold an enquiry, as under Article 239 (AA)(3)(a), police, and law and order do not lie within the domain of the Assembly.

According to Bar&Bench, Salve said that the summons issued by the panel stated that Mohan's failure to be appear before it would amount to breach of privilege. "Privilege is something to be decided by the Assembly. A committee cannot decide whether action on privilege can be taken or not. This is a serious threat," Salve argued.

Mohan, through his counsel, also argued that he has the right not to speak under Article 19 of the Constitution.

"As a House, 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," Salve said.

Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Facebook, argued that the state legislature cannot act like a court of justice. "...they said that incriminating material was not taken down. If it was not taken down, then everyone has the right to move court for it. Everyday, Facebook is told to take down material that is in violation of the laws. They could have gone to court," Bar&Bench quoted him as saying.

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for the chairman of the panel and AAP MLA Raghav Chaddha, said that the Facebook India VP was not summoned as an accused and no coercive action was intended against the company.

Singhvi stated that there are reports that  alleged that the social media platform was being misused and the panel wants to discuss way to fix the problem.

According to Scroll, Justice Kaul said the notice issued by the panel has a different tenor from the one being expressed by Singhvi. Singhvi responded by saying that appropriate rectifications would be made to the notice and added that the panel had deferred its meeting scheduled for Wednesday in light of the hearing

Singhvi, however, maintained that the Assembly has the power to conduct the inquiry and also argued that Article 19 does not apply to Mohan as he is not an Indian citizen.

The Delhi Assembly panel has been summoning senior Facebook employees over allegations that the social media giant ignored hate speech by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders on its platform.

The committee is also probing Facebook's "alleged role and complicity" in the Delhi riots in February which over 50 people were killed.

With inputs from PTI

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