The Delhi Assembly told the Supreme Court on Wednesday that Facebook India’s vice president and managing director Ajit Mohan was not summoned as an accused and that no coercive action was intended against the company.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Facebook India and Mohan against the notice issued by the Delhi Assembly for deposing before it on Wednesday for the social media company’s alleged role in the Delhi violence in February.
Senior advocate Abhishek Manu Singhvi, appearing for Delhi Assembly, said that Mohan was summoned as a witness to get the social media giant’s suggestions on devising mechanism to prevent misuse of Facebook.
“He was called as a witness, not as an accused. No coercive steps were intended. During previous hearings, it came to light that Facebook was misused (in connection with communal riots). So, we want to get suggestions from them and devise mechanism so that Facebook is not misused,” Singhvi said.
Justice Kaul, who is heading the three-judge bench hearing the case, said that the notice issued to Mohan by the Delhi assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee did not give such an impression.
“That is not what you have said in the notice. Then you may recall the notice,” justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul said.
Singhvi offered to will file a counter affidavit clarifying the stance of the Delhi Assembly.
The court then adjourned the hearing till October 15 and Singhvi submitted that no further meeting will be held on this subject matter till the petition is disposed. The court recorded Singhvi’s submissions and asked Delhi Assembly to file it’s response within a week.
During the hearing, senior advocate Harish Salve, appearing for Mohan, said that right to free speech under Article 19(1)(a) includes right not to speak. Salve also told the court that if his client doesn’t appear, he can’t be compelled to face penalty.
Salve also said that Mohan works for a US-based company and doesn’t want to comment on a politically sensitive issue in India.
The petitioners had moved the apex court challenging the two summons issued by the Delhi Assembly and others against them on September 10 and 18.
The committee’s insistence on compelling Ajit Mohan to speak, and its categorical threat to his non-appearance as a “breach of privilege of the committee and [to take] necessary action as deemed fit”, gives rise to a clear and present danger to the fundamental rights and liberties of petitioners in the ultra vires proceedings before the Committee, Mohan had claimed in his petition.