Delhi HC issues notice in Sanjay Hegde plea challenging suspension of his Twitter account

Delhi HC issues notice in Sanjay Hegde plea challenging suspension of his Twitter account

The Delhi High Court today issued notice in the plea filed by Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde challenging the suspension of his Twitter account.

The plea also calls for the issuance of guidelines to ensure that any censorship on social media is carried out strictly in accordance with the provisions of Article 19 of the Constitution of India.

Notice to the Central government and Twitter was issued by the Single Judge Bench of Justice Navin Chawla.

Justice Navin Chawla
Justice Navin Chawla

Appearing for Hegde, Senior Advocate Jaideep Gupta today made brief submissions on the maintainability of a writ petition against Twitter.

Gupta argued that as per a judgment passed by a Division Bench of the High Court, a writ can be filed against non-state actors for violation of Article 19(1)(a), under certain circumstances. He submitted that Twitter qualified as a audio visual media or closely related media which was performing a public function.

Standing Counsel Kirtiman Singh informed the Court there were already guidelines on the point of censorship on social media.

After hearing the counsel, the Court proceeded to issue notice in the plea. The matter will be heard next on February 11.

In October last year, Twitter had suspended Hegde's twitter account on finding that the use of an image of August Landmesser as his header image amounted to "hateful imagery" and violated the platform's terms of use. As pointed out by Hegde in his petition, the 1936 photograph showed Landmesser standing out in a gathering of workers for refusing to raise his arm in the Nazi salute.

Landmesser
Landmesserwww.rarehistoricalphotos.com

Hegde's account was restored the following day, only to be suspended again on October 28, this time for retweeting CPI-ML member Kavita Krishnan's tweet. The May 2017 tweet by Krishnan contained a poem written by Gorakh Pandey against the death penalty, titled "Unko phaansi de do." Sanjay Hegde had quoted the tweet and retweet it with the caption "Hang him" (i.e the English translation of the poem title).

Appeals made by Hegde to Twitter challenging his suspension did not yield any positive response and on November 5, he was informed that his account had been permanently suspended.

In his petition before the Delhi High Court, Hegde has argued that the suspension of his account is contrary to Twitter's rules and terms of use, and is therefore illegal and arbitrary.

He has further argued that the suspension has violated his rights under Article 19 of the Constitution, including his right to free speech and expression, his right to assembly, and his right to form an association.

In this regard, the petition filed by Advocate Pranjal Kishore also points out that the objectionable tweets in question do not violate any of the grounds mentioned by Twitter as grounds for warranting the suspension of an account.

Moreover, Hegde has submitted that the government has a positive obligation to ensure that rights guaranteed under the Constitution are not violated by private entities such as Twitter. As stated in his petition,

"... arbitrary ‘take-downs’ or suspensions have a chilling effect on free speech. The power to regulate the same is provided in the IT Act. Section 79 (2) (c) read with Section 87 (2) (zg) of the Information Technology Act authorize the Central Government to prescribe guidelines to intermediaries. In exercise of these powers, the Central Government has laid down various guidelines regarding when content is to be removed. However, no guidelines to ensure that legal speech is not censored have been laid down."

This apart, Hegde has also prayed that the Delhi High Court direct Twitter to restore his suspended account.

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