Twitter India chief Manish Maheshwari – who had been summoned by the Uttar Pradesh Police for questioning over tweets about the assault of a Muslim man in Ghaziabad – need not travel to UP to testify, the Karnataka High Court said on Friday, in a major relief to the social media executive.
Sharply criticising the police, the court also said the notice issued to Mr Maheshwari – who was later charged with intent to riot, promoting enmity and criminal conspiracy – was “malafide” and amounted to “harassment” and “arm-twisting”.
“Invocation of Section 41A was resorted to as an arm-twisting method after Maheshwari did not respond to initial notice… Provisions cannot be permitted to become tools of harassment,” the court said, scrapping the Uttar Pradesh Police’s notice and asking the police to question him virtually if necessary.
Justice G Narendar said the Ghaziabad Police has not been able to show any evidence which would demonstrate the involvement of the Twitter India officer in the incident, though the hearing has been going on for the past several days.
Earlier, this month Mr Maheshwari had told the Karnataka High Court that he was ready to appear before the police in Uttar Pradesh for questioning so long as they provide an undertaking that he will not be arrested.
“If UP Police gives an undertaking to the court that they will not arrest me, I am ready to appear before the police in Ghaziabad within 24 hours,” his lawyer told the court on July 6.
Mr Maheshwari pointed out he had made himself available for questioning via video conferencing but UP Police had turned down the offer and insisted he appear in person.
A resident of Bengaluru, the Twitter executive was given temporary protection from arrest by the Karnataka High Court. The UP Police challenged the order in Supreme Court but the case is yet to be taken up.
Mr Maheshwari had filed a challenge to UP Police’s summons on June 23 – after he was served a notice calling him to the Loni Police Station (on the Delhi-UP border) for questioning.
An FIR was filed last month against Twitter India, several journalists and Congress leaders after an elderly man – Abdul Samad – alleged he was thrashed by some others and forced to chant “Jai Sri Ram” and “Vande Mataram”. A video of the incident was widely shared on social media.
Twitter India had been ordered to delete certain posts but initially failed to do so. The UP Police summons accused Twitter of failing to remove certain “objectionable” tweets.
“You couldn’t remove certain tweets even after you were asked to by authorities. You understand Indian laws and are bound to follow them,” the notice summoning Mr Maheshwari had said.
The police have denied any “communal angle” in the case, claiming the man was beaten up over amulets he sold. They alleged he was attacked by six persons – Hindu and Muslim – known to him.
Mr Samad’s family, however, has denied the police’s claims.
“Police is wrong in saying my father used to sell tabeez (amulets). No one in our family does this… We are carpenters. Police are not saying the right thing – let them investigate,” his son, Babloo Saifi, told NDTV.
The case was the first one filed against the social media giant after the centre’s new rules for online news publishing platforms came into effect amid Twitter’s standoff with the BJP government over a range of issues.