Google on Monday moved the Delhi High Court, asking it to revoke the order instructing the search engine to take down web pages that show sexual harassment allegations against Indian artist Subodh Gupta, The Indian Express reported. Allegations against Gupta emerged a year ago during the #MeToo movement.
The company said implementing the court order would have a “chilling effect on freedom of speech and expression” and was “against public interest”.
Last month, the Delhi High Court ordered Facebook, the company that owns the social media platform Instagram, to reveal the identity of the administrator of an account that had posted allegations against Gupta, and also directed Facebook and Google to take down web pages that show the content, which Gupta has alleged were defamatory in nature. The Instagram account, Scene and Herd, was also restrained from posting any content against Gupta in the interim.
Facebook informed the court of Justice Rajiv Sahai Endlaw that it had taken down the post containing allegations against Gupta from the Instagram account, which cannot be accessed by users in India. However, the posts can still be viewed by users outside the country.
Google submitted that the High Court needed to alter its order as the company only owns and operates the search engine that carries out indexing of the information for a search query. It said that the alleged defamatory articles against Gupta were already available on third-party websites that the company does not control.
The company also pointed out that the news agencies that reported on the allegations were not made a party to the defamation suit. The proceedings were initiated to “put an unreasonable restraint on the freedom of speech and expression on the internet as well as the freedom of the press”, Google told the court.
“It is settled law that in a case of alleged defamation, the threshold for considering the prima facie strength of granting an injunction, especially at the interim stage, has to be necessarily of a very high order,” the company said in its application. “A publication may not be restrained if the defendant says that it intends to justify it or to make a fair comment on a matter of public interest.”
This maintained a balance between the right to free speech and individual rights, it said. In this case, where the plaintiff had not prosecuted the publishers or authors of the articles, the court would not be able to hear the arguments for the articles. The company said it “goes directly contrary to due caution that must be exercised before grant of such injunction”.
Gupta’s counsel said the posts had been made “behind a veil of anonymity” and caused irretrievable damage to Gupta, his family, his reputation and his right to livelihood.
The Delhi High Court will take up the case next on November 18, where proceedings in the defamation suit against the Instagram handle and others will be heard. Gupta has sought Rs 5 crore for distress caused to him and his family due to the alleged defamatory posts.
Earlier this month, nearly 40 activists had issued a statement condemning the civil defamation suit. The signatories said that the defamation case against the Instagram account’s administrator was an attempt to “silence the survivors and gag the platform that gave them a voice” while protecting their identities.
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