Twitter India Managing Director Manish Maheshwari told the Karnataka High Court on Tuesday that he was ready to appear before the Uttar Pradesh police in a case related to tweets about the assault of an elderly Muslim man in Ghaziabad district, Bar and Bench reported. However, he sought an undertaking from the police to the court stating that he would not be arrested.
A single-judge bench of Justice G Narendar was hearing a petition filed by Maheshwari challenging a notice issued by the Ghaziabad Police to Maheshwari under Section 41A of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Section 41A of the CrPC empowers the police to send a notice to a person asking him to appear before it.
In a previous hearing, the court had barred the Uttar Pradesh police from taking any coercive action against Maheshwari.
On Tuesday, the Uttar Pradesh police counsel, advocate Prasanna Kumar, argued that Maheshwari was issued the notice as he was the representative of Twitter in India.
“There is no threat to liberty of petitioner,” the lawyer said. “All that Uttar Pradesh Police wants to know is who is the in-charge of Twitter in India. If they had disclosed this, none of this would have happened.” He added that as per the new social media rules introduced by the Centre, Twitter is required to appoint a grievance officer based in India and reveal his identity.
Kumar cited the example of co-accused in the case, journalist Mohammed Zubair, who, he said, appeared before the police and answered questions posed to him.
The counsel also argued against Maheshwari filing the petition in the Karnataka High Court and submitted that the court does not have the jurisdiction in this case. “FIR has been registered in Ghaziabad police station,” Kumar said. “Notices were issued to addresses in Delhi and Mumbai. Neither whole nor part of cause of action arises in jurisdiction of this High Court.”
However, appearing for Maheshwari, Advocate CV Nagesh said that “Twitter Communications India Private Ltd”, the firm named in the First Information Report, is in Bengaluru, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Karnataka High Court, Live Law reported.
Referring to the Registrar of Companies, Nagesh added that Maheshwari is an employee and not the director of the company.
He added that according to Section 160 of the Criminal Procedure Code, the UP police did not have jurisdiction to issue a notice to Maheshwari. The section states that a police officer can issue a notice asking a person to appear only within the “limits of his own or any adjoining [police] station”.
He added that Maheshwari was willing to appear in front of the police via video-conferencing. “But still they do not want me to appear on video, probably with some ulterior motive,” Nagesh said. “In the next 24 hours, I am ready to appear on video or physically. But they must give an undertaking to this court that they will not lay a hand upon me.”
The court then pulled up the Uttar Pradesh police for failing to determine how Twitter was responsible for the content on which the complaint was filed.
“What is the allegation against Twitter India?” the court asked Kumar. “There must be substance to say that Twitter India is capable of removing it [content]? How does the complainant connect Twitter India. Don’t bring in [new] IT rules now. IT rules will not come here.”
The court also told Kumar that there was no point in investigating against Maheshwari if the police were not able to prove that he could have prevented the objectionable tweets.
The matter will next be heard on Wednesday.
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 that 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.