THE Delhi High Court today issued a notice to the Central Government and Twitter in a petition filed by senior advocate Sanjay Hegde seeking restoration of his Twitter account, in addition to the framing of guidelines for intermediaries on censorship on social media in accordance with Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India.
Single judge bench of Justice Navin Chawla after a short hearing issued the notice seeking a response from the Centre and Twitter and listed the matter for further hearing on February 11, 2020. On the maintainability of the petition against a non-state actor, senior advocate Jaideep Gupta who appeared for Hegde, argued that as per the judgment of the Division Bench of the High Court, a writ petition can be filed against non-state actors for violation of Article 19 (1) (a) under certain circumstances.
Suspension of twitter account
The twitter account of senior advocate Sanjay Hegde was suspended by Twitter on October 26, 2019, after Sanjay Hegde posted the image of August Landmesser as his header image. Landmesser was a man who refused to offer the Nazi salute to Adolf Hitler.
Though Hegde’s twitter account was restored the following day, however, it was again suspended on October 28 this time for retweeting Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) member Kavita Krishnan’s May 2017 tweet which contains a poem by Gorakh Pandey titled “Unko phaansi de do”. Hegde retweeted Kavita’s tweet with the caption “Hang him” i.e. the English translation of the Pandey’s poem.
On November 5 Twitter permanently suspended Hegde’s account after refusing his appeals for restoration of his account.
Violation of fundamental rights
Following the permanent suspension, Hedge moved to the Delhi High Court challenging the suspension as a violation of his right of freedom of speech and expression, right to assembly, and right to form an association as enshrined under Article 19 of the Constitution.
Hegde called the suspension of his account “illegal and arbitrary”. In his plea, he submitted that the tweets in question do not violate the grounds mentioned by Twitter as a reason for suspension an account. He said that the “… arbitrary ‘take-downs’ or suspensions have a chilling effect on free speech”.
He also contended that, however, the central government has formulated various guidelines for intermediaries on removal of content in exercise of powers given under Section 97 (2)(c) read with Section 87 (2)(zg) of the Information Technology Act, however, no guidelines have been laid down by the government to ensure that legal speech is not censored by the intermediaries.