By LE Desk

New Delhi, June 24, 2021: The Karnataka High Court has granted temporary protection from arrest to Twitter India chief Manish Maheshwari, who was summoned by Uttar Pradesh Police for questioning over tweets about the assault of a Muslim man in Ghaziabad.

“This matter needs further consideration,” a single-judge bench of Justice G Narender said. Reserving orders till June 29, the court further said, “No coercive action (till then)”, NDTV reported. 

The court also said Maheshwari — who was charged by police with intent to riot, promoting enmity and criminal conspiracy charges — does not have to travel to UP at this time.

To an objection by UP Police that this meant Maheshwari, who is a resident of Bengaluru, had been granted anticipatory bail, the court said it was not stopping the investigation. “If police desire to investigate or question, they may do so by virtual mode,” Justice Narender said.

During today’s hearing Maheshwari had told the Karnataka High Court: “In two days, the notices (from the police) to me changed from witness to accused”, reported NDTV.

He pointed out that on June 17, the UP Police sent him a notice identifying him as a witness under Section 160 of Code of Criminal Procedure. Two days later, they sent him another that listed him as an accused under Section 41 of the CrPC, which would have allowed his arrest.

“I have nothing to do with any of the allegations… some accused uploaded a video, but they have registered a FIR against me,” Maheshwari said. “I am in Bangalore. The police sent notice via email. I responded stating I am not in a position to come to Ghaziabad… offered to appear via online. But they want my physical presence,” he added.

The court questioned UP Police over the summons, saying: “… he (Maheshwari) is not Director of day-to-day activities of Twitter. At least prima facie you should show he is responsible…”

UP Police had said Maheshwari and Twitter India’s Resident Grievance Officer, Dharmendra Chatur, who was also summoned, were responsible for activities on the digital platform.

On the change of notice to Maheshwari, UP Police said it was “based on investigation”.

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. He had earlier declared himself available for questioning via a video call, but the offer was rebuffed by the police, who insisted on his physical presence.

An FIR was filed last week 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 SriRam” 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.

This week PTI quoted sources as saying the company had “withheld” 50 tweets after receiving a legal request to do so. The sources said the tweets contained content related to the video clip.

“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.

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.

This is the first time a case has been filed against the social media giant after the centre’s new rules for online news publishing platforms came into effect.

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