HC to hear Sanjay Hegde’s plea challenging suspension of his Twitter account on July 8

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On Tuesday, the High Court of Delhi said that it will hear advocate Sanjay Hegde’s plea challenging the suspension of his Twitter account on July 8.

A Single-Judge bench of Justice Prathiba M Singh listed Hegde’s plea for hearing on July 8.

The Court was hearing a plea filed by Hegde seeking an early hearing in his plea. The petition was filed by Lawyer  Pranjal Kishore.

In his early plea, the advocate has sought a direction to Twitter to restore his Twitter account, which was permanently suspended on Nov 5, 2019.

The Petitioner has said that the suspension of his Twitter account is contrary to the ‘Twitter Rules’ & its terms of use, illegal & arbitrary. A violation of his right to free speech & expression guaranteed by Article 19 (1) (a). A violation of his right to assembly & right to form association guaranteed by Articles 19 (1) (b) & 19 (1) (c) of the Constitution. Consequently, the Petitioner seeks an appropriate writ, direction, or order, directing the Centre to frame guidelines to ensure that online speech is not arbitrarily censored by social media websites such as the one run by Twitter.

In his early plea, he apprised the court that the petition was first listed on Dec 16, 2019, & subsequently heard on January 6, 2020, wherein notice was issued to both respondents after hearing the Petitioner’s arguments regarding maintainability of the Petition. When the matter was taken up on Feb 11, 2020, counsel appearing for the Respondent Twitter had orally undertaken that the Petitioner’s data would not be deleted from its servers & also sought time to file a note with submissions challenging maintainability of the Petition. Later the matter has not been taken up for more than a year on account of the Covid pandemic.

The plea said that during the pendency of this Petition, thousands of other accounts have been similarly blocked. In some cases, access to content is disabled by Respondent No.2 (Twitter) without any notice, & without giving any explanation or reason whatsoever. In the Petitioner’s own case, his account was suspended for posts which have been put up by thousands of other users & continue to exist even today.

The plea said that “It is reiterated that the continued suspension of the Petitioner’s account has the effect of illegally curtailing his right to freedom of speech & expression. In view of the same, & in light of the importance of the questions raised, it is most respectfully prayed that this application be allowed, & the matter be listed for early hearing”.

He also mentioned that Centre vide notification dated Feb 25, 2021, has notified the Information Technology (Intermediary Guidelines & Digital Media Ethics Code) Rules, 2021.

“The rules recognize Respondent No.2 as a ‘significant social media intermediary.’ They provide for some procedural safeguards with respect to censorship by entities such as Respondent No.2,” the application said.

The advocate also mentioned the US Supreme Court opinion delivered on April 5, 2021, which has adverted to the significant control over speech, exercised by Twitter. He said that case arose out of a challenge to the US President’s blocking of Twitter users from following his account. The matter was disposed of as having become moot, post the said President having demitted office, he said.

He also reproduced part of US Supreme Court Judge Justice Clarence Thomas opinion in its application.

The plea copy reads, “However, in a separate concurring opinion Justice Clarence Thomas noted the ‘concentrated control of speech in the hands of a few private parties. The Judge went on to observe that existing legal doctrines would need to be modified in light of the concentration of power in the hands of private parties”.

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