Delhi High Court has allowed Twitter to file a short reply on the issue of maintainability of the plea moved by Sanjay Hegde seeking guidelines on social media censorship.
Justice Navin Chawla has granted a period of 2 weeks for Twitter to file the said reply.
In today's hearing, Senior Counsel Sajan Poovayya, who was appearing for Twitter, had sought court's permission to file a written reply on the issue of jurisdiction.
'If it would've been a suit, I would've straightaway argued on merits. Since it's a writ petition, I have to first take instructions and make my submissions on maintainability', he said.
Appearing for Sanjay Hegde, Senior Advocates Jaideep Gupta ad Kapil Sibal, assisted by Advocate Pranjal Kishore, sought an order from the court, injuncting Twitter from deleting the data pertaining to the present matter, from its server.
The court refused to pass any such order as it was assured by Mr Poovayya that he will take instructions on this issue from Twitter. The court said:
'We won't pass why order, but we'll advise them to do so.'
In his plea Hegde has contended that Twitter being private body which performs a public function is amenable to the jurisdiction of the Court under Article 226 of the Constitution.
Highlighting the importance of social media in exercise of fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression, the petition stated :
'Social media includes web-based sites for social networking and microblogging, through which users can create communities to share information, ideas, personal messages etc. Unlike any other medium of communications (such as radio, television and printed publications), which are based on one-way transmission of information, platforms such as Twitter, facilitate participatory information sharing and collaboration. Users are not passive recipients, but active publishers of information. By enabling individuals to exchange information and ideas instantaneously and inexpensively across national borders, social media sites allow access to information and knowledge that was previously unattainable. This, in turn, contributes to the progress of society as a whole"
He submitted that Section 79 (2) (c) read with Section 87 (2) (zg) of the Information Technology Act authorize the Central Government to prescribe guidelines for intermediaries; and while the government has laid down guidelines regarding when content is to be taken down, no guidelines to ensure that legal speech is not censored have been laid down.
Citing depiction of "hateful imagery", Twitter had blocked Hegde's account on October 27, for posting the picture of August Landmesser wherein he refused to the Nazi salute at a rally, when everybody around him was doing it; a picture Hegde claims has been up for several months as his cover photo. He also contended that the post did not violate any of the Twitter's posting norms.
Following a massive virtual uproar in Hegde's favour, Twitter had restored his account the next day, only to block it again, this time for sharing the poem titled 'Hang Him'. Hedge said that the said post dated back to 2017, where he had retweeted the poem posted by Kavita Krishnan, which dealt
with the hanging of two peasant revolutionaries in Independent India.
He pointed out that the social media giant had arbitrarily acted against him by suspending his account for merely re-sharing a tweet; while the original tweet subsisted without any consequences.
He has contended that the company has violated his right to freedom of speech and expression, as guaranteed under Article 19 of the Constitution
He added that access to social media was also crucial from the perspective of right to assembly and the right to association, as guaranteed by the Constitution.
He urged that regulatory guidelines were also essential because India is a signatory to ICCPR which recognizes and protects internet based speech.
With these arguments, Hegde has also prayed the Court to direct Twitter to restore his suspended Twitter account '@sanjayuvacha'.