SC relief to Twitter user facing allegations by Tripura police

THE Supreme Court on Monday interdicted the Tripura Police from taking action with respect to its notice to Twitter asking the latter to remove certain tweets made by the petitioner, Samiullah Shabbir Khan, regarding the communal violence that broke in the state last year.

A division bench of Justice D.Y. Chandrachud and A.S. Bopanna granted this interim relief to Khan who claims, himself to be a socially conscious student.

The police notice issued on November 22 last year, under Section 91 (Summons to produce document or other things) of the Code of Criminal Procedure(CrPC) to Twitter also required it to provide details such as browsing log, emails, IP address and mobile number linked to the Twitter account of the petitioner.

On October 26, a protest rally was organized by Viswa Hindu Parisad in Panisagar subdivision, North Tripura District. The protest rally was organized against the attack on Durga Puja pandals and Hindu temples in Bangladesh. During the protest march, communal clashes broke out. There have been allegations and counter-allegations even as multiple FIRs were lodged in the matter.
Khan was notified by Twitter on December 3 as part of its policy that the Tripura police had information pertaining to his account besides removal of “objectionable” tweets by him. His account is one of the several accounts that had been marked by the Tripura Police as having been publishing distorted and objectionable news items regarding communal violence. Khan had put out tweets stating anti-Muslim violence was going on in Tripura and as many as 12 mosques were vandalized.
Khan has contended that the police is doing roving enquiry and that his tweets are constitutionally protected under Article 19(1)(a) of the Constitution of India. In his plea, he contends that restrictions on free speech is permissible only if it offers an imminent threat to public order. This enquiry is being conducted in a case filed by the police under Sections 153A, 153 B, 469, 471, 503, 504, 120B of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) and Section 13 of the Unlawful Assembly Prevention Act(UAPA).
“For speech to form an exception to constitutional protections, it must act like a ‘spark in a powder keg’, such that public disorder is immediate and imminent. References to vague and unsubstantiated ‘potential to flare up communal tension’ because of journalistic reportage of targeted violence is not sufficient to strip speech of its constitutional protection”, Khan argues.
Khan points out that the current narrative inverts the source of threat and violence, from the actual participants to those who have reported, criticized and questioned it and it has a chilling effect on democratic accountability.
Khan is not the only one who is facing an investigation for social media posts. In fact, his is the fourth litigation before the Supreme Court arising from the communal violence in Tripura. Earlier, the Supreme Court issued notice to the Tripura police on a petition filed by three persons, accused by state police under the stringent UAPA, seeking to quash an FIR against them for their tweets and comments on social media on the recent violence in Tripura targeting minorities. A special bench of Chief Justice of India (CJI) N.V. Ramana and Justices D.Y. Chandrachud and Surya Kant had directed that no coercive action would be taken against the accused persons in the meantime. In another case, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking an independent and impartial investigation by a Special Investigation Team (SIT) into the recent incidents of violence against the Muslim community in Tripura.
On December 8 last year, the Supreme Court had stayed all the proceedings against HW News Network, its Associate Editor Arti Ghargi and two journalists Samridhi Sakunia and Swarna Jha pursuant to two First Information Reports (FIRs) lodged by the Tripura police for their reporting of the communal violence that broke out in the state in October this year.
Advocate Shahrukh Alam represented Khan.

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