The Karnataka High Court on Monday criticised the central government for seeking repeated adjournments in a case related to the blocking of accounts and posts on Twitter, PTI reported.

“We are not at the government’s dictation like that,” Justice Krishna S Dixit said after the Centre requested that the case be listed on January 27 or February 3. “What will people think? We are not at your beck and call. How many times have you taken adjournments?”

The High Court is hearing a plea filed by Twitter challenging the central government’s orders to block 39 tweets and accounts on the platform between February 2021 and February 2022.

The case was last heard on October 27, following which the matter was adjourned to two subsequent dates – November 16 and January 9 – at the request of the government, according to Bar and Bench.

At Monday’s hearing, the court expressed displeasure at the government seeking repeated adjournments on an important matter, PTI reported. The judge said that the court would give only more one week to the Centre and ordered listing of the case on January 18.

Previous hearings

At the last hearing on October 27, Twitter had said that the government should provide users of the social media platform with a reason for blocking their accounts.

Senior Advocate Ashok Haranahalli, appearing for Twitter, had contended that unless the reasons are mentioned, a user or a social media platform like Twitter will not be able to challenge the blocking order in a court.

At earlier hearings too, Twitter has told the court that the rights of its users under Article 19 (Right to Freedom of Speech and Expression) are infringed upon if their accounts are blocked without notice and that the reason for restricting accounts should be mentioned.

The social media company has also argued that orders under Section 69A of the Information Technology Act, 2000, can only be issued if it is in line with the six grounds mentioned in the law.

The grounds for blocking information are that it should be in the interest of the sovereignty and integrity of India, defense of the country, security of the state, friendly relations with foreign states, public order or preventing incitement to the commission of any cognisable offence.

At the last hearing, Senior Advocate Arvind Datar had also contended that intermediaries like Twitter should have the power to move court against a government order to block user accounts on their platform, Live Law reported.

In response, the Centre had argued that platforms like Twitter cannot dictate what constitutes free speech and what content on social media could threaten national security.

The case

In February 2021, the government asked Twitter to remove hundreds of accounts that criticised the Centre over its handling of the large-scale farmer protests that started in November 2020. The social media platform initially refused, but eventually relented after its local employees were threatened with prison time.

In July, Twitter moved the Karnataka High Court challenging the legality of the blocking orders, saying they “demonstrate excessive use of powers”. Twitter told the High Court that between February 2021 and February 2022, the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology asked it to take down 175 tweets and more than 1,400 accounts.

In April last year, the Centre had asked Twitter to pull down accounts that criticised the government’s handling of Covid-19 during the second wave when lakhs of people died. The Centre has also repeatedly criticised Twitter for not fully complying with the Information Technology rules that came into force in May last year.