SC relief to Facebook India head till Oct 15

KT NEWS SERVICE. Dated: 9/24/2020 9:39:17 AM

NEW DELHI, Sep 22: In a relief to Facebook India head (vice-president) Ajit Mohan, the Supreme Court on Wednesday barred any coercive action against him by Delhi Government of Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal or state Assembly till the next hearing on October 15, telling him no need to appear before Delhi government's "Peace and Harmony Committee" till disposal of his petition.
His senior counsel Harish Salve argued that Article 19 on freedom of speech also includes the right not to speak and as such he cannot be forced to appear before the committee when he does not want to respond to their queries.
A Bench of Justices S K Kaul, Aniruddha Bose and Krishna Murari gave one week to Delhi government to file the counter affidavit, if any. In its order, the Apex Court recorded that the committee will not hold a meeting qua this petition till further orders.
On the summons issued by the committee, Salve said: "I do not know whether they want Ajit Mohan to as as witness or as an expert."
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi told the court that Ajit Mohan was supposed to present himself before the committee later in the day at 3 pm, but the meeting is deferred in view of the hearing. Appearing for the committee, he argued that Mohan was only being called as as witness without any threat of coercive action.
He said the committee only wants to understand from him as to what safeguard measures have been put in place to avoid misuse, not as the accused. Justice Kaul retorted: "But this is not what you have said in the notices."
Singhvi agreed to rectify the notice even while asserting that Delhi Government's committee still maintained the power to conduct an inquiry.
In his petition, Mohan says the committee cannot compel him to appear before it when he is already appearing before the Parliamentary Panel on Information Technology, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor.
Senior advocate Mukul Rohatgi, appearing for Facebook company, said Mohan was not summoned because he made any comment but because he is an employee of Facebook. He argued that there is no breach of privilege if Mohan does not appear before the House committee.
The petition takes offence to the ruling Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) declaring Facebook guilty prima facie on the basis of its first impression. It says AAP cannot issue such statements since it is not a court of law.
On Mohan not appearing before the committee last week, the committee took offence that Facebook is in contempt of Delhi Assembly and gave the social media company a "final warning" to heed the summons and appear before it, dismissing a letter sent by its executive, declining to Mohan present himself before it. It gave another opportunity to appear on Wednesday, but put off the date in view of the petition in the Apex Court.



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