Monday, April 19, 2021

Any ‘senior, responsible’ Facebook staff can appear before Delhi panel, SC told

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The Delhi assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee’s summons to Facebook vice president Ajit Mohan is meant to call for deposition “any senior, responsible officer” of the company, the panel’s lawyer told the Supreme Court on Wednesday, during a hearing on a petition by the social media company’s executive who has challenged the move.

Mohan has been summoned by the Committee to answer questions over whether the social media company’s content and how it was moderated played any role in the February 2020 communal riots in the Capital. The executive has moved the top court against the summons on September 10 and 18.

In his petition, Mohan claimed the summons required him to appear and make a statement on oath with regard to the Delhi riots. Being a sensitive issue, he was not willing to go before the panel and make a statement.

Also read: Govt notice to Twitter over restored handles

Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, who opened arguments on Wednesday for the Delhi Legislative Assembly, told the judges that the only intention behind summoning Mohan was to ensure somebody responsible on behalf of the company can depose before the Committee.

The three-judge bench headed by Justice SK Kaul asked Singhvi if the Assembly insisted on Mohan’s name or it was open to others appearing for the company. “The argument on behalf of Mohan is that by issuing notice to him, you are compelling him to come,” remarked the bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Hrishikesh Roy. Singhvi replied, “I have never said only Mr. Mohan should appear….We did not want just anybody to come but a senior, competent person.” The bench recorded this statement by Singhvi.

In his prefatory statements, Singhvi told the Court that the petition by Mohan raises a larger question about powers and privileges of not just the Delhi Assembly but more than 25 State Assemblies in the country.

“The petitioner cannot say I will go to some Committee but not to the other. He has not challenged the order constituting the Peace and Harmony Committee or the subsequent notification setting out its terms of reference. There are special affections when Facebook deposes before similar Committees of Parliament but refuses to come here,” Singhvi submitted.

For Mohan, senior advocate Harish Salve submitted that his client had a right to remain silent under his right to freedom of speech and expression under Article 19(1)(a). As an intermediary for exchange of information on his platform, he cannot be compelled to come and state on oath before a non-statutory Committee, Salve argued.

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