I can’t be forced to appear before House panel: Facebook official Ajit Mohan

Ajit Mohan, Vice-president and MD of the India arm of Facebook  

Senior Facebook official Ajit Mohan told the Supreme Court on Thursday that he was well within his rights to remain silent and not be compelled by the Peace and Harmony Committee of the Delhi Legislative Assembly to be part of a “politically polarised debate” on the Delhi riots last year.

Appearing before a three-judge Bench led by Justice Sanjay Kishan Kaul, senior advocate Harish Salve, for Mr. Mohan, submitted that his client headed the commercial office of an American company in India. He clarified to the court that he could not be compelled to appear before the committee even if he was exempted from taking oath.

“It is a conscientious decision. You may criticise me for it. You give oath when you are testifying on facts... I do not wish to appear before the committee. It is a highly polarised political debate. I do not wish to be part of it. I am well within my right to remain silent,” Mr. Salve emphasised.

Mr. Salve flagged his concerns about the mandate of the Committee, which included recommending action against persons against whom incriminating evidence for incitement of violence was prima facie found.

Mr. Salve said the Information Technology Act already deals with hate content on the Internet.

Mr. Mohan has accused the Assembly of threatening him with “breach of privilege” if he did not appear before the Committee to testify.

Mr. Salve said the case highlighted several pertinent questions of law, one of which was whether the privileges of the Legislative Assembly of the NCT of Delhi would include the power to compel the appearance of non-members. He said there was no such privilege to summon third parties.

“If they have the power to compel appearance, how will it be reconciled with the right to privacy, free speech and expression, which include the right to silence?” Mr. Salve submitted.

The court is considering the question of the competency of the Delhi Assembly to constitute such a fact-finding committee. The Bench is also looking into the jurisdiction of the Committee to summon Facebook officials.

In a previous hearing, the Centre, too, had told the Supreme Court that, prima facie, the Delhi Legislative Assembly had no jurisdiction to summon Mr. Mohan to testify as police and public order in the Capital were not within its domain.

Senior advocate A.M. Singhvi, for the Assembly, had explained that Mr. Mohan was called as an expert to put forth “constructive suggestions” in order to prevent such incidents from happening due to the indiscriminate use of social media platforms. He had said the Committee’s role was to make “positive recommendations”. There was no coercive action intended against Mr. Mohan.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 9:53:56 AM |

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