Sanjay Hegde moves Delhi High Court against suspension of Twitter account
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Sanjay Hegde moves Delhi High Court against suspension of Twitter account

Meera Emmanuel

Senior Advocate Sanjay Hegde has moved the Delhi High Court challenging the suspension of his twitter account and calling 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.

On October 26, this year, Twitter had suspended Hegde’s twitter account on finding that the use of an image of August Landmesser as his header image amounted “hateful imagery” and violated Twitter’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.

The image of August Landmesser used by Hegde (Image courtesy:<span style="color: #993366;"><a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-tragically-powerful-story-behind-the-lone-german-who-refused-to-give-hitler-the-nazi-salute-a7214386.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="color: #993366;" target="_blank"> Independent, UK</a></span>)
The image of August Landmesser used by Hegde (Image courtesy:<span style="color: #993366;"><a href="https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/the-tragically-powerful-story-behind-the-lone-german-who-refused-to-give-hitler-the-nazi-salute-a7214386.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" style="color: #993366;" target="_blank"> Independent, UK</a></span>)

Hegde’s account was restored the following day briefly, it was suspended again on October 28, this time over a retweet of 2017 tweet by CPI-ML member, Kavita Krishnan. The May 2017 tweet by Krishnan comprised a poem written by Gorakh Pandey against 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.

On November 5, Hegde was informed that his account had been permanently suspended and would not be restored.

On November 7, Hegde sent a legal notice to Twitter over the suspension. On November 12, he was informed again that his account would not be restored.

Hegde has now approached the Delhi High Court in protest, arguing that the suspension of his account is contrary to Twitter’s rules and terms of use, and therefore illegal and arbitrary. He has further contended 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.

It is humbly submitted that the suspension of the Petitioner’s account is illegal and contrary to the Respondent No.2’s own rules and terms of use. The arbitrariness of Respondent No.2’s conduct is clear from the fact that while the Petitioner’s account was suspended for sharing a post/tweet by another user, no action has been taken against the user who wrote the original tweet. The same continues to be in public domain.

It is pertinent to note that after the Petitioner’s account was suspended, there was an outcry on traditional as well as social media. Many twitter users shared the picture of August Landmesser as well as the poem by Gorakh Pandey on their timelines, as a way to protest against the arbitrary and illegal actions of Respondent No.2. However, no action was taken against any of these users.”

As far as the maintainability of the plea is concerned, Hegde has argued that a writ petition is maintainable against Twitter, since the social media platform discharges a public function.

Moreover, Hegde contends that the Government has a positive obligation to ensure that rights guaranteed under the Constitution are no violated by private entities such as Twitter.

The Petitioner submits that 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.”

Hegde has also urged that guidelines be issued to curb unconstitutional censorship on social media and ensure that any censorship on the same is in line with Article 19 of the Constitution.

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

[Read the Petition]

Sanjay-Hegde-Petition-against-Twitter-delhi-high-court.pdf
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