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No coercive step against Facebook exec for ‘role’ in Delhi riots, says Delhi Assembly panel after SC sends notice

Senior counsel Harish Salve representing the Facebook VP argued that the Right to Speech under Article 19(1)(a) provides a provision of right not to speak and the panel forcing Mohan to appear before the house panel with a threat of penalty is a violation of the fundamental right of his free speech.

The Supreme Court on Wednesday issued a notice in a petition filed by Facebook India and its vice president and managing director Ajit Mohan, challenging September 10 and September 18 notices by Delhi assembly panel which is probing “deliberate inaction on the part of (the) social media platform to apply hate speech rules”.

A bench comprising of Justices Sanjay Kishan Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari also ordered the Delhi Assembly panel not to hold a meeting with respect to the issue till further orders.

The court ordered that no coercive action will be taken against the Facebook VP till October 15, when it will take up the matter for further hearing in the case related to summons asking him to depose before it with regard to north east Delhi riots. The proceedings of the panel with respect to Facebook will remain stayed, Delhi Assembly panel took an undertaking.

The petition filed argued that the subject matter investigated by the Delhi Assembly panel falls under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Union Government and a state legislative assembly has no locus standi to coerce witnesses to appear or provide evidence on such issues.

Delhi Assembly Panel had no locus standi to bring action against Facebook: Defence counsel Harish Salve

Senior counsel Harish Salve representing the Facebook VP argued that the Right to Speech under Article 19(1)(a) provides a provision of right not to speak and the panel forcing Mohan to appear before the house panel with a threat of penalty is a violation of the fundamental right of his free speech.

Questioning the Delhi Assembly’s authority to bring action against the Facebook VP, Salve said, “Issues relating to communal riots are not within the powers of the Delhi legislative assembly. Police and public order are not under the powers of Delhi assembly. The committee has no authority of law to deal with these issues.”

Advocate Mukul Rohatgi, representing Facebook, said that the root of the matter is that the legislative committee is not a court of law and it has no power of adjudication. Rohatgi pointed out that the Delhi Assembly panel was not a competent authority to issue summons and threaten breach of privilege on non appearance.

The Delhi Assembly panel was represented by advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi argued before the bench that Mohan was called only as a witness and that there would no coercive steps for non-appearance. However, Justice Kaul noted that the notices sent by his client did not reflect the submissions made by him in the court. The court asked Singhvi to remedy the notices and deferred the matter till October 15. 

Facebook snubs Raghav Chadha’s summons

Earlier on September 15, Facebook India had snubbed the summons issued by the Delhi Assembly’s ‘Peace and Harmony Committee’, led by AAP’s Raghav Chadha, asking them to testify before them. The summons was issued to Managing Director and Vice-President Ajit Mohan over complaints of ‘deliberate inaction’ by Facebook against alleged hate speech that ‘culminated in the Delhi riots’. 

In its statement, Facebook India had declined to attend the hearing of the committee, citing that they have already testified before a Parliamentary Standing Committee in early September for ‘safeguarding citizen’s rights’

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