HC judge recuses himself from hearing pleas on suspension of social media accounts

A judge of the Delhi High Court Tuesday recused himself from hearing a batch of petitions challenging suspension and deletion of accounts by social media platforms.

Justice Subramonium Prasad said petitioner lawyer Sanjay Hegde is a “good friend” of his and that the pleas be listed before some other bench.

The court fixed the matter for further hearing before another judge on August 7.

The high court is seized of seven petitions by several account holders challenging the suspension and deletion of their accounts by social media platforms, including Twitter, which rebranded itself and replaced its blue bird logo with X’.

Twitter account holder Wokeflix, whose account was first suspended and then deleted on the allegation of promoting hate speech, has told the high court that the micro-blogging platform is following blatant double standards where Hindu sentiments are allowed to be ridden roughshod over and sentiments of other communities are treated with kid gloves.

In its written submissions, Wokeflix has alleged the micro-blogging site was “aiding and abetting in the normalisation of genocidal tyrants like Aurangzeb”.

Another petitioner and senior advocate Sanjay Hegde approached the high court in 2019 seeking directions to the Centre to lay down guidelines under the Information Technology (IT) Act to ensure that censorship on social media is carried out in accordance with the Constitution.

He had filed the plea after his account on Twitter was permanently suspended on November 5, 2019 allegedly in connection with two re-tweets by him, and sought restoration of his account.

In the written submissions, he has said Twitter discharges a public function of “high public interest” which makes it amenable to the jurisdiction of the high court, and added that a purely private contract can be enforced by a mandamus (judicial writ) if it is found that the body discharges public function.

The submission was made in response to Twitter’s stand that it does not impart public function and “serving the ends of freedom of speech and expression” was only incidental to its contractual relationship with the users.

In a note submitted to the high court in 2021 in connection with the suspension of the senior advocate’s account, the microblogging site had said, “Services on the Twitter platform is a contractual relationship” and “in its commercial venture, that it incidentally also serves the ends of freedom of speech and expression would not convert the nature of the activity”.

Twitter has claimed Hegde’s petition was not maintainable.

The US-based firm stated that its services are covered by the Information Technology Act which has a grievance redressal mechanism and that Hegde’s recourse was to file a complaint on the portal under the Act.

According to Hegde’s petition, the first of the two posts pertained to a tweet by Kavita Krishnan, secretary of the All India Progressive Women’s Association (AIPWA) and member of the politburo of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist) (CPI-ML), who had posted Gorakh Pandey’s poem ‘Unko phaansi de do’ on her Twitter profile.

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Hegde had re-tweeted and shared Krishnan’s post with the caption ‘Hang Him’, an English translation of the poem’s title, the petition said.

The second post was a picture of August Landmesser, a German shipyard worker who refused to join a crowd in the Nazi salute, which Hegde was using as his profile header/cover photo for over a year, it said.

It said, “The photograph in question was taken on June 13, 1936, and shows a large gathering of workers at the Blohm Voss shipyard in Hamburg. Almost everyone in the image has raised his arm in the Nazi salute. The only exception is Landmesser, who stands toward the back of the crowd, with his arms crossed over his chest.”

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