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Karnataka HC restrains UP Police from taking any ‘coercive action’ against Twitter India’s Manish Maheshwari

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The Karnataka High Court on Thursday passed an interim order restraining the Uttar Pradesh Police from initiating any coercive action against Twitter Communications India Private Ltd’s Manish Maheshwari. The HC was hearing a petition filed by Maheshwari in response to Ghaziabad Police’s two notices to him asking him to appear before the police in relation to tweets over the Ghaziabad assault case made on the platform.

On June 17, the Loni Border Police Station issued a notice under Section 160 of the CRPC to Maheshwari, designating him as managing director of Twitter India, and asked him to appear before the police in Ghaziabad district. A few days later, the UP Police issued another notice, this time under Section 41 A, saying that if he failed to turn up in Loni Border Police Station, action will be taken against him.

While passing the interim order, a single judge bench of Justice G Narender questioned the issuance of the notice to Maheshwari under Section 41 A and asked Uttar Pradesh Police to furnish further information on the matter. The court will hear the case next on June 28 (Monday).

In the oral order passed on Thursday evening, the bench said, “The case of the petitioner is that he is an employee of the ninth accused (Twitter India), and is the revenue head in charge of advertising and sales, he is neither a member of the board of directors nor is he responsible for the uploading of the alleged video…”

In the meanwhile, there will be an interim order restricting the respondents from initiating any coercive action against the petitioner. It is needless to say, in the event, if the police desires to examine the petitioner in relation to the investigation, they may do so in virtual mode — Justice G Narender

Submission made by Maheshwari’s advocate

Appearing for Maheshwari, senior advocate CV Nagesh told the bench that Maheshwari was not the managing director as claimed by the Uttar Pradesh Police, and he had no role to play in the circulation of the video. Nagesh said that Maheshwari was an employee for Twitter India Communications Private Ltd’s Marketing and Sales department, and he was not in a position to travel to Ghaziabad from Bengaluru.

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Nagesh said that his client had responded to the initial notice that was sent by the Loni Border Police Station on June 17. Maheshwari responded saying that although he was in no way responsible for the videos of the Ghaziabad assault on the platform, he would comply with the notice and requested the Loni Border police station to conduct the summons virtually over a video call.

Maheshwari’s advocate also objected to the issuance of the second notice under Sec 41 A. But first, what exactly does Sec 41 A entail?

Notice of appearance before police officer.– (1) 2[The police officer shall], in all cases where the arrest of a person is not required under the provisions of sub-section (1) of section 41, issue a notice directing the person against whom a reasonable complaint has been made, or credible information has been received, or a reasonable suspicion exists that he has committed a cognizable offence, to appear before him or at such other place as may be specified in the notice.
(2) Where such a notice is issued to any person, it shall be the duty of that person to comply with the terms of the notice.
(3) Where such person complies and continues to comply with the notice, he shall not be arrested in respect of the offence referred to in the notice unless, for reasons to be recorded, the police officer is of the opinion that he ought to be arrested.
3[(4) Where such person, at any time, fails to comply with the terms of the notice or is unwilling to identify himself, the police officer may, subject to such orders as may have been passed by a competent Court in this behalf, arrest him for the offence mentioned in the notice.

Nagesh diverted the attention of the judge to the provisions of making an arrest under the mentioned section and said that there was no reasonable complaint or suspicion on Maheshwari — requirements which are to be met under the section for the police to send the notice.

UP Police’s counsel’s submissions

Advocate Prasanna Kumar raised the issue of maintainability of the writ petition citing lack of territorial jurisdiction. He said that just because the notice was served at a place, does not mean that the jurisdiction will be at that particular place.

While responding to Justice Narender’s statement that the UP Police should have at least prima facie shown that Maheshwari was responsible for the ‘activities on the platform’ and that Maheshwari was not made an accused in the case, Kumar said that the second notice was served under Section 41A after the UP Police conducted further investigations between June 18 and June 21. Kumar was then asked by the judge to furnish relevant information on June 28.

Notice related to the Ghaziabad Assault

A few weeks back, the Loni Police Station registered cases against Twitter India, Twitter Inc, Congress politicians, and journalists with regard to tweets that were posted about the case. Twitter was named as an accused in the case as it had allegedly failed to delete ‘provocative’ tweets despite clarifications made by the Ghaziabad Police regarding the matter.

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On June 5, an elderly Muslim man was attacked in Loni in UP’s Ghaziabad district. A Hindustan Times report said that the assailants also chopped 72-year-old Abdul Samad’s beard and forced him to chant religious slogans. A video of the incident went viral on social media platforms in the following days.

While it is being said that the attack is communal in nature, police deny that angle and maintain that it was an interpersonal matter that led to the attack. The FIR reportedly said that the Ghaziabad Police had clarified the matter. However, despite that, other accused named in the FIR did not delete their tweets and Twitter did not do anything about it.

Quoting from the FIR, a report by The Wire reads, “These tweets were done with the intent of disturbing the peace in the society. The tweets not only created tension but also invoked fear among a particular community in Uttar Pradesh.”

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Among other subjects, I cover the increasing usage of emerging technologies, especially for surveillance in India

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