BENGALURU: The Karnataka high court quashed on Friday UP police’s notice to Twitter India MD Manish Maheshwari to appear in connection with a probe, calling it mala fide and an “arm-twisting method”.
Police in Ghaziabad, which had issued the notice, said they were awaiting a copy of the order. “We will take a call only after going through it,” Ghaziabad SSP Amit Kumar Pathak said.
The notice was issued on June 21 under CrPC Section 41-A, four days after the initial notice under Section 160, asking Maheshwari to report at the Loni border police station on June 24 regarding a communally sensitive video uploaded by a user on Twitter. Maheshwari moved the Karnataka HC as he lives in Bengaluru.
Disposing of Maheshwari’s petition, Justice G Narendar said the notice should be read under CrPC Section 160, and if the investigating officer desires to secure a statement or any information, UP police can question the Twitter India MD via a video link or meet him at his residential or office address. On June 24, the HC had directed UP police not to take any coercive action against Maheshwari and maintained that he could be questioned via video-conferencing.
"The action of the respondent (UP police) trying to invoke Section 41-A leaves no doubt in the mind of the court that it is used as an arm-twisting method as the petitioner refused to heed the notice issued under CrPC Sec 160. The respondents inferred it as an audacious act of refusing to bow to its command (sic)," the judge noted in his order .
In a lengthy order dictated over more than five hours, the judge pointed out that the notice threatens punitive action and deprivation of liberty, which admittedly is a fundamental right. He noted that failure to comply would have resulted in deprivation of the petitioner’s liberty, and, had he complied, it would still have curtailed his day-to-day activities vis-a-vis his profession by compelling him to travel all the way to Ghaziabad.
Criticising police’s approach at the preliminary investigation stage and the method used to secure records in the public domain, the judge took exception to what he called UP police’s "ominous silence with regard to the merits of the matter" and its attempt to coax the court to look into the ground of jurisdiction alone.
‘No control over content’
On the contentious issue of the status of Twitter India, the judge said that the record maintained by statutory authorities and available in the public domain clearly demonstrates that Twitter India is an independent entity, and that the shareholding pattern and control of the affairs of the company are in the hands of Twitter International, Ireland.
A perusal of the annual returns of Twitter India’s business activities shows that it is into advertising and market research, and has no control or authority over the content on the social media platform, which is operated and controlled by Twitter Inc, USA, the court said.
"The petitioner is not controlling the content on the social media platform. Provisions of the statute cannot be permitted to become tools," the judge said. "Though hearings have been conducted for the past several days, the respondent has not filed even an iota of material to demonstrate the prima facie involvement of the petitioner in the case," the judge observed.