Centre, Twitter response sought on SM censorship plea

Centre, Twitter response sought on SM censorship plea

Sanjay Hegde: The lawyer who filed the plea for the restoration of his Twitter account. (Photo Credit: PTI)

The Delhi High Court on Monday sought stands of the Ministry of Information Technology and Twitter on a plea by a senior advocate for directions to the Centre to frame guidelines for censorship on social media as per provisions of the Constitution.

On a plea by senior lawyer Sanjay Hegde, who also sought restoration of his Twitter account, Justice Navin Chawla issued notices to the ministry and the social media giant and listed the matter for further hearing on February 11.

Hegde moved the court after his Twitter account was permanently suspended by the social media on November 5, 2019, allegedly for re-tweeting two posts.

Appearing for Hegde, senior advocate Jaideep Gupta, in a brief hearing, cited various judgements, arguing for the maintainability of the petition.

As an interim relief, he also sought a direction to Twitter that the data of his client's account must not be deleted.

Central government standing counsel Kirtiman Singh, appearing for the ministry, submitted that guidelines were already in place on the point of censorship on social media.

In his plea, filed through advocate Pranjal Kishore, Hegde asked if large multi-national corporations, like Twitter, are not amenable to the constitutional scrutiny for their actions.

According to his petition, the first of the two posts re-tweeted by him, was of Kavita Krishnan, the secretary of All India Progressive Women's Association (AIPWA) and a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML) Politburo. She had posted Gorakh Pandey's poem 'Unko phaansi de do' on her Twitter profile.

Hegde had re-tweeted and shared Krishnan's post with the caption 'Hang Him', an English translation of the poem's title, the petition said.

The second post was a picture of August Landmesser which Hegde was using as his profile header/cover photo for over a year, it said.

It said, "The photograph in question was taken on June 13, 1936 and shows a large gathering of workers at the Blohm Voss shipyard in Hamburg. Almost everyone in the image has raised his arm in the Nazi salute. The only exception is Landmesser, who stands behind the crowd, with his arms crossed over his chest."

The petition stated that Hegde's account was suspended purportedly for the use of the two posts whose original tweeters have faced no action.

The plea contended that suspension of the senior lawyer's Twitter account "is illegal, arbitrary and contrary to the Respondent No.2's (Twitter) own terms of use and rules" and also violates his right to freedom of speech and expression guaranteed under the Constitution.

"The arbitrariness of Respondent No.2's conduct is clear from the fact that while the petitioner's account was suspended for sharing a post/tweet by another user, no action has been taken against the user who wrote the original tweet. The same continues to be in public domain," it said, adding that no action has been taken against those who had subsequently, shared the poem and photograph on their twitter profiles.

The petition said before coming to court, Hegde had followed the internal appeals procedure of Twitter, but his appeal was rejected.

He had also served a legal notice on the social media platform, but no response was received to the same, it said.

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