The Karnataka High Court on Thursday said the Uttar Pradesh Police cannot take any coercive action against Twitter India Managing Director Manish Maheshwari in a case related to tweets about the assault of an elderly Muslim man in Ghaziabad district, Live Law reported.
The matter was heard by Justice G Narendar. A writ petition, filed by Maheshwari on Tuesday challenged the legal notice issued by the Ghaziabad Police to Maheshwari under Section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure, Twitter India’s Head of Policy Communications Pallavi Walia said. Notices under this section mandate appearance before a police officer.
During the hearing, advocate CV Nagesh said Maheshwari was just an employee of the organisation and had nothing to do with the case, Live Law reported. “I have nothing to do with the offence,” Nagesh said. “Twitter is not controlled or administered by me. Company’s name is Twitter Communications India Private Limited.”
The police had asked him to appear at the police station for questioning by 10.30 am on Thursday or face action.
The notice also summoned Twitter India’s Resident Grievance Officer Dharmendra Chatur to the police station. It said Maheshwari and Chatur were responsible for the activities on the social media platform.
“You could not remove certain tweets even after you were asked to by authorities,” the notice said “You understand Indian laws and are bound to follow them.”
This was the second notice sent to Maheshwari after he had said he would be available via video call after the first summons on June 17.
Maheshwari told the High Court that he had informed the police that he is in Bengaluru and cannot travel to Uttar Pradesh. “Even Supreme Court has said that [my] statement can be recorded through video conference. But the police officer wants my personal presence there,” the Twitter India Managing Director said.
The Twitter India head said the basic question before the court was summons issued under Section 41A of CrPC. “Just two days before issuing this notice they issued me a notice under Section 160 [of CrPc] calling me as a witness,” he told the court.
The judge orally observed that Maheshwari was “apprehending deprivation of liberty”. He also said that the matter requires further consideration and will be heard on June 29, according to Bar and Bench.
The High Court also said that the police can question Maheshwari virtually.
The police have claimed that the tweets and videos on the assault of the man were “an attempt to destroy communal harmony”.
Apart from Twitter India, the Uttar Pradesh police have filed a case against The Wire, journalists Rana Ayyub, Saba Naqvi and Mohammad Zubair and Congress leaders Salman Nizami, Masqoor Usmani and Sama Mohammad.
The Karnataka High Court has issued a notice on a plea filed by Zubair seeking transit bail. The High Court also noted that Zubair, who is also the co-founder of fact-checking website AltNews, did not need transit bail as there was no apprehension of arrest.
In the case against Rana, the Bombay High Court on June 21 granted her protection from arrest for four weeks.
The assault incident
The case relates to a video depicting 72-year-old Abdul Samad Saifi saying that he had been abducted in an autorickshaw by several men and locked up in a secluded house. Saifi alleged he was assaulted and forced to chant “Jai Shri Ram”. He also said the assailants cut his beard and made him watch videos of other Muslims being attacked.
Though the alleged assault took place on June 5, the video of the attack and of Saifi narrating the incident was circulated widely on social media on June 14.
However, the Ghaziabad Police, which registered a case based on Saifi’s complaint, on June 15 claimed that there was no communal angle to the assault. The police added that both Hindus and Muslims were among the accused who beat up the elderly man. Saifi, they said, had been beaten up because an amulet he gave one of the assailants had an adverse effect on them.
The police had arrested nine people in connection with the assault. However, the accused have been granted interim bail by a court in Ghaziabad.
(Corrections and clarifications: This story was edited after Twitter clarified that the company has challenged the police notice for questioning and not sought anticipatory bail.)