On Thursday, the Supreme Court dismissed a petition filed by Facebook India Vice President Ajit Mohan challenging the summons issued to the social media giant by the “Peace and Harmony” Committee of the Delhi Legislative Assembly in connection with the Anti-Hindu Delhi riots that occurred last year.
According to the reports, a three-judge Supreme Court bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said that the committee was well within its power to issue a summons for appearance to Facebook, however, it certainly did not have the required legislative mandate to recommend action against persons as such terms of reference comes under the purview of law and order and police, the legislative domains on which the Delhi Assembly does not have powers to legislate.
The Supreme Court also said that the term of reference created a legitimate fear in the mind of the petitioners that Facebook is being made an accused. The Court also said that ‘Peace’ and ‘Harmony’ are subjects beyond law and order, and the Committee must be careful before framing the terms of reference so that it does not become an overreach.
On September 23, 2020, Facebook India Vice President Ajit Mohan had filed a petition in the Supreme Court challenging the two notices issued by the “Peace and Harmony” Committee of the Delhi Assembly seeking his presence before the panel.
However, the Court had protected Mohan against any coercive action and, during the course of arguments, wished to know if the Assembly intended the personal appearance of Mohan alone or anybody from the company.
During the hearing, Ajit Mohan, represented by senior advocate Harish Salve, had contended that as an intermediary for exchanging information on his platform, the non-statutory Committee could not compel him to appear before them.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, representing the “Peace and Harmony” committee, said that the notice never required Ajit Mohan to appear before the committee, but any senior, responsible person from the company capable of assisting the Committee may depose instead.
Delhi govt summons Facebook head Ajit Mohan over Anti-Hindu Delhi riots case
Last year, following the horrific Anti-Hindu Delhi riots that were unleashed by the Islamist mobs in the national capital, the Aam Aadmi Party had constituted a self-proclaimed “Peace and Harmony” Committee within the Delhi Assembly over complaints of ‘deliberate inaction’ by Facebook against alleged hate speech that ‘culminated in the Anti-Hindu Delhi riots’. It is notable here that AAP’s own leader Tahir Hussain is one of the main accused in the communal riots that left 53 people dead.
The Delhi Assembly Committee had decided to summon Facebook India officials intending to discuss if Facebook officials had played any role in orchestrating the Anti-Hindu Delhi riots. Raghav Chadha, the Chairman of the committee, said in a tweet thread that the committee had received several complaints against the officials of Facebook for “their alleged deliberate and intentional inaction to contain hateful content in India with respect to scathing revelations made by a report in The Wall Street Journal.”
Delhi Legislative Assembly’s Committee on Peace & Harmony after careful deliberations of the allegations leveled in the complaints has decided to take immediate cognizance of this issue and has set it’s mechanism in motion.— Raghav Chadha (@raghav_chadha) August 17, 2020
The AAP member-led committee had summoned Mohan first on September 10 for its meeting scheduled on September 15 in connection with complaints alleging deliberate omissions and inaction by the social media company in removing hateful content and posts.
However, Facebook India had snubbed the summons issued by the Delhi Assembly’s “Peace and Harmony” Committee, saying that the subject matter under investigation fell within the exclusive domain of the Union government, and a state legislative assembly cannot compel witnesses to appear and provide evidence on such subjects.
Following the snub, AAP MLA Raghav Chadha, the head of the committee, had taken offence and had labelled Facebook’s action as a ‘disregard’ to the ‘privilege’ of the committee. He had informed that summons would be issued to the social media platform yet again. He alleged that Facebook is trying to hide crucial facts in connection to the riots.
In October 2020, Facebook had also moved the Supreme Court last month against the summons issued by the Delhi Assembly Committee.