The Supreme Court has sought a response from former Twitter India head Manish Maheshwari over a plea of the Uttar Pradesh government against a Karnataka High Court order, according to news agency PTI. The HC order had set aside a notice by the Uttar Pradesh police seeking Mr Maheshwari's appearance for a probe into a communally sensitive video uploaded by a user on the micro-blogging site. A bench headed by Chief Justice of India N V Ramana issued the notice.
The former Managing Director of the social media website was summoned by the Ghaziabad police for questioning after an FIR was filed against Twitter India and eight others on June 16 over a widely shared video showing an elderly man Abdul Samad Saifi being assaulted and forced to chant "Jai Shri Ram" and "Vande Mataram" by a group of young men near Delhi. The UP Police alleged that the man was beaten up by people, Hindu and Muslim, known to him over amulets he sold, and claimed that fake news was being spread to disturb communal harmony. Mr Maheshwari was charged with intent to riot, promoting enmity, and criminal conspiracy.
The Karnataka HC granted him temporary protection from arrest on June 24 and said that the UP Police could not take "coercive action" against him. Mr Maheshwari, a resident of Bengaluru, had told the Karnataka HC that he had made himself available for questioning via video conferencing but the police had turned it down and insisted that he appear in person. He said he was ready to appear before the UP Police if they provided an undertaking that he would not be arrested.
"If UP Police gives an undertaking to the court that they will not arrest me, I am ready to appear before the police in Ghaziabad within 24 hours," his lawyer had said.
The UP police then approached the top court to challenge the order. Mr Maheshwari had also approached the court asking them to hear his side before passing any orders on UP Police's appeal.
Appearing for the UP government, Solicitor General Tushar Mehta said that there's a question of law that needed examination. "For the time being, ignore the reason why summon was issued. It was a 41A notice so there's no question of arrest etc. The question is the territorial jurisdiction of the High Court," he submitted before the court.
Section 41 (A) of the Code of Criminal Procedure (CrPC) gives police the power to issue a notice to an accused to appear before it when a complaint is filed. If the accused complies with the notice and cooperates, they are not required to be arrested. Maintaining that the provisions of the statute under Section 41(A) CrPC should not be permitted to become "tools of harassment", the Karnataka HC had said the Ghaziabad Police did not place any material which would demonstrate even the prima facie involvement of the petitioner, though the hearing has been going on for the past several days.
"In the background of the fact that Section 41(a) notice was issued by mala fide, the writ petition (filed by Mr Maheshwari seeking protection from arrest) is maintainable," the High Court had said. The court added that the notice under Section 41(A) of the CrPC should be treated as under Section 160 of CrPC, allowing the Ghaziabad Police to question Mr Maheshwari through the virtual mode, at his office or his residential address in Bengaluru.
"The action of the respondent (Ghaziabad Police) trying to invoke section 41(A) of the CrPC gives no doubt in the mind of the court that the same has been resorted to as an arm-twisting method as the petitioner refused to heed to the notice under section 160 of the CrPC," the court had observed.
Mr Maheshwari was transferred to the United States by his employer, Twitter, in August.