June 4: The Andhra Pradesh High Court, through its Registrar General B. Rajasekhar, has filed a writ petition demanding the removal of “defamatory, incriminatory and abusive” social media posts against the court.

The petition, filed with the high court itself by its administrative arm, lists the state authorities, including the police, central government, and social media companies such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Google and Youtube, as respondents, The Print reported.

Apart from the judicial side, which decides cases, courts have a separate administrative side, which consists of Registrars for different functions. For instance, the Registrar (Criminal) would ensure that every appeal or revision petition filed in a high court is filed with the necessary court fee, within the limitation period, and complies with the guidelines for filing the plea.

The petition asserted that of the three pillars of the government, the judiciary is the “weakest… with no ground to defend or voice its opinion”, and so, the government authorities should “act immediately” and curb the “unabated and unprecedented attack” on the high court.

Notably, the petition also raised questions about “applicability of fundamental rights to an institution, which is one of the three pillars of this Democratic Nation”.

Further, it raised the question of whether social media companies provide a “public function”, so as to be liable to Constitutional scrutiny under Article 226.

“…specifically, it raises the issue of whether multinational corporations/ companies, discharging a public function serving millions of users, while making profit, are amenable to constitutional scrutiny for their actions,” it added.

The petition asserts that since these social media platforms serve as a “medium for the citizens to communicate and exchange their grievances, concerns and ideas, it serves as a source of news and information and as such, amounts to performing public function”.

This would mean that the high court could issue a direction to these platforms, if it rules that they do perform a public function, to enforce fundamental rights.

The petition seeks a direction to all these platforms to take down abusive and defamatory posts, comments, videos etc, as well as legal action against those who posted them.

The Registrar’s petition mentions two FIRs, filed on 16 April and 18 April, complaining against unknown people posting “defamatory and scandalous material” on social media platforms. These complaints mentioned comments relating to different judgments passed by the high court recently, including one concerning the decision to set aside a state government proposal to convert the medium of instruction in government schools to English.

In addition to the FIRs, the high court also issued contempt notices last week to 49 other people, including MP Nandigam Suresh and former MLA, Amanchi Krishna Mohan, for public statements alleged to have attributed caste and corruption motives to high court and Supreme Court judges. 

The FIRs were registered under the Sections 505(2) (statements creating enmity, hatred or ill will between classes) and 506 (criminal intimidation) of the Indian Penal Code. However, the petition notes that the FIRs “conveniently fail” to charge the accused under provisions of the IT Act and Section 153A (promoting enmity between different groups on grounds of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language etc). 

“It is relevant to mention herein that the tweets/posts/comments and videos have travelled beyond mere offensive speech, encompassing speech which is insulting, derogatory, discriminatory, provocative or even such that it incites and encourages use of violence or results in violent backlashes,” the petition contended. 

It claims that the police haven’t taken any action on the FIRs, and so, the investigation should either be transferred to any central government agency or state authorities should be directed to take the necessary steps. 

It further sought an order for social media companies to devise a self-regulatory framework to prohibit the posting of such defamatory, incriminatory and abusive content on their platforms with respect to judiciary in India. It also demands framing guidelines for intermediary liability, particularly for the protection of the judiciary online.

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