The Legislative Assembly in Delhi informed the Supreme Court that Facebook’s head of India, Ajit Mohan, was simply summoned by his “Committee for Peace and Harmony” to give his expert deposition in his investigation against. the alleged failure of the company to track down hate speech.
It is emphasized that his proceedings are not criminal or judicial in nature, nor is Mr. Mohan an “accused” and therefore cannot assert the right to remain silent.
“A witness cannot claim his right to silence or to be left alone in response to a summons to testify before a legitimate committee of an authorized legislator, and that right is not fundamental except when the person is accused under Article 20 of the Constitution,“said the Delhi Assembly.
He also assured,
“No coercive action was taken against petitioner No. 1 and no one was intended if the signatory no. 1 limited himself to participate and participate in the proceedings as a witness. It is also important to note that the proceeding is conducted in the most transparent manner with live broadcast and therefore there is no doubt of any fear regarding the proceeding nor from petitioner No. 1 or anyone else.“
The presentation comes in the form of a counter sworn statement made by the Assembly in Mohan’s request challenging the summons issued to him by the Delhi Assembly’s “Peace and Harmony” Committee, which is examining the complaints on the “role or complicity of Facebook officials in the Delhi riots“which took place in February 2020.
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In his request, Mohan had stated that the matter falls within the exclusive domain of the Union of India and that the Committee improperly seeks to exercise its powers and privileges in a way that goes beyond the constitutional limits of the Legislative Assembly.
Refuting this assertion, the Assembly affirmed that the scope of the Committee’s work is purely recommendation, including the formulation of positive recommendations to ensure peace and harmony in Delhi “,which refers to various items / items within the competence of the Assembly in List II and List III of the Seventh Program.“
It relies on item 39 of List II which reads “Powers, privileges and immunities of the Legislative Assembly and its members and committees …; enforcement of the presence of people to testify or produce documents before the committees of the State Legislature” and item 45 of List III which reads 9 “Surveys and statistics for the purposes of any of the matters specified in List II or List III”.
It is also presented,
“The proceedings of the Assembly cannot be questioned before the Tribunal and the Member or Dean who is empowered to regulate the procedure or conduct of business is not subject to the jurisdiction of the courts with respect to the exercise by of the same those powers [Section 37 of the GNCTD Act, 1991]. “
Significantly, last month the Supreme Court issued notices on Mohan’s request, asking for clarification as to whether the privileges of the Legislative Assembly in Delhi included the power to compel non-members to appear before it to express their views or subject them to examination?
In response to this question, the Assembly affirmed that it is an “intrinsic right” of the Legislator to examine matters of “public importance” and, to this end, to require the presence of persons who perform a duty of public importance or who have competence in matter before the Committee.
He further pointed out that Mr. Mohan had already filed before Parliament on some other matters and Facebook employees / representatives regularly file before legislatures around the world and therefore, the issue he raised that non-members cannot be instructed to appear before the committees of Legislatures is not authentic or in good faith.
“The claim by petitioner 1 that his being called to testify will have a chilling effect on the fundamental right to freedom of speech and expression is not genuine, out of place and frivolous. It is reprehensible to raise such an argument, especially considering that the petitioners appeared before the Standing Committee on Information Technology of the Parliament, called upon to provide evidence, exercise powers similar to those of defendant No.“said the Assembly.
It is further argued that a simple question of citation in no way violates the petitioner’s fundamental rights under Article 14 or Article 21 of the Constitution and therefore a written petition under Article 32 is not tenable.