In a huge breather for Twitter India Managing Director Manish Maheshwari, the Karnataka High Court on Friday ruled that the petition filed by him challenging the Section 41A notice sent to him by the UP Police for appearance was maintainable. As a result, he will be treated as a witness in the case and would not need to travel to UP to testify.
Quashing the UP Police notice sent to Maheshwari, the court has asked the police to record his statement via virtual mode or by visiting his office/home.
The court observed that the "invocation of Section 41A was resorted to as an arm-twisting method after Maheshwari did not respond to initial notice under Section 160 CrPC.
"It can be held that the invocation of Section 41A is without jurisdiction," the court said, adding "it is not in doubt that the Section 41A notice itself threatens punitive action and deprivation of liberty, which is a fundamental right.
The single-bench Justice G. Narendar added that the notice to Maheshwari should be treated as Section 160 notice and it is open to the investigation to seek more information from Maheshwari.
The bench also criticised the UP Police's approach and noted down some serious precedents undertaken by the police in the case. "Provisions of the statute cannot be permitted to become tools of harassment. UP Police has not placed even an iota of material to demonstrate even prima facie involvement of Maheshwari. Not only failure of UP Police to secure information that is available in the public domain, but the ominous silence maintained on the merits of the matter and an attempt to coax the court to scrap the petition on jurisdiction," it said.
Maheshwari had approached the high court in response to a notice issued by the Uttar Pradesh Police to him to appear for questioning in person. The Uttar Pradesh Police issued the notice under Section 41-A of the CrPC on June 21, asking him to report at the Loni Border police station in Ghaziabad at 10.30am on June 24.
The notice was issued by the Uttar Pradesh Police after a video had gone viral on Twitter showing an elderly Muslim person being assaulted in Ghaziabad. The Uttar Pradesh Police had said the incident was not communal in nature and said its clips were being shared to foment communal unrest.
Giving his verdict, Justice G. Narendra said, “Neither TCIP (Twitter Communications India Private Ltd) nor Twitter India nor he (petitioner) are in position to provide any info data regarding users of the said service. He not being acquainted with facts he would not be of assistance to IO (investigating officer)", Live Law reported.
Justice Narendra was quoted by Live Law as saying, "Despite that if IO desired he is willing to appear virtually. A singular fact emerges from the notice and the reply that the awareness of IO regarding distinction of Twitter Inc and Twitter India. That Twitter Inc is responsible for control and operation of the platform.”
Justice Narendra observed, “the petitioner is not arrayed as accused, nor is it the case of the respondents that there is credible information regarding his guilt,” Bar and Bench reported. This put into the question the notice issued to him under Section 41-A
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Maheshwari had moved the Karnataka High Court as he lives in Bengaluru in Karnataka. Maheshwari had earlier argued that he was not responsible for the content shared on Twitter.
During arguments on Thursday, Maheshwari's counsel said Twitter India was an "independent entity", which was distinct from its parent company Twitter.
"Twitter Inc is a parent company. We have absolutely nothing to do with it. Twitter India is an independent organisation and independent institution," C.V. Nagesh, Maheshwari's counsel, told Justice Narendra. "Let me go on record that Twitter Inc does not hold a ‘single share’ in Twitter India. That's why I'm submitting that it's a totally different entity," Nagesh added.
However, the advocate for the Ghaziabad Police, P. Prasanna Kumar, argued that Maheshwari's colleagues had been representing both Twitter India and Twitter Inc before the Central government.
On June 24, the High Court, in an interim order, restrained the Ghaziabad police from initiating any coercive action against him.
Justice G. Narendra had also maintained that if the police wanted to examine him, they could do so through virtual mode. The Uttar Pradesh Police had on June 29 approached the Supreme Court to challenge the Karnataka High Court interim order.