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Complaint against Twitter India, Manish Maheshwari for ‘objectionable tweets’ on Hindu deity

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Since the deadline for complying with the IT Rules has passed, several police cases have been registered against Twitter India and its MD. 

Another complaint has been filed against Twitter India’s Managing Director Manish Maheshwari and others, this time with the Delhi Police for the alleged objectionable depiction of Hindu gods by an account on the platform. Maheshwari and Twitter India’s Shagufta Kamran were named in the complaint due to the alleged inaction of the platform in removing the posts.

The complaint by advocate Aditya Singh Deshwal, a copy of which MediaNama has seen, said that a Twitter account named the Atheist Republic shared an “objectionable graphic/cartoon of Hindu Goddess Maa Kali”. Deshwal said that Twitter, which is a significant social media intermediary (SSMI) as per the IT Rules, did not take action against the account or remove the content. Based on this, Deshwal filed a complaint against —

  • Twitter Communication India Private Limited
  • Manish Maheshwari, Managing Director of Twitter India
  • Shagufta Kamra, Public Policy Manager, Twitter
  • Armin Navabi, founder of Atheist Republic
  • Susanna Mcintyre, CEO of Atheist Republic

The complaint was filed under Sections, 153A, 295A, 298, 505, 107 of India Penal Code, 1860 and Section 67, 67A read with 79(3) of the Information Technology Act. Attempts to reach Delhi Police officials did not evoke any response and it is not yet clear whether an FIR has been registered in this regard. MediaNama has reached to Twitter, and the post will be updated when a response is received.

The inclusion of Twitter Communications India Private Limited (or Twitter India) as an accused in the complaint is interesting when seen in context with the recent deliberations during a hearing in the Karnataka High Court. Justice G Narender, who was hearing a petition filed by Maheshwari in relation to the Ghaziabad assault video case, asked if Twitter India was capable of pulling down content from the platform, or whether it was an intermediary under the IT Act 2000. Maheshwari’s counsel replied that it was not an intermediary under Section 79 of the IT Act.

“On scrolling further on the profile of Atheist Republic, I saw that the said user had posted many more other such posts on its profile to insult and demean the Hindu Religion. It is pertinent to mention here that after going through the entire post of that user Atheist Republic, it can easily be concluded that it is a deliberate attempt on the part of the user to willfully outrage and hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus in order to promote religious animosity amongst the people of this country,” Deshwal said in his complaint.

It is not the first time that the Atheist Republic, run by Susan McIntyre and Armin Navabi has been in the spotlight. Recently in February, Facebook blocked Atheist Republic’s page for users in India at the government’s behest. Earlier, in October 2020, Twitter had suspended the account of Navabi. This was after Navabi, an Iranian-Canadian, released an image of Hindu deity Kali, which right-wing groups considered provocative.

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Complainant’s contention against Twitter

Deshwal made these allegations against Twitter in his complaint —

  • Twitter “in connivance” with Armin Navabi and Atheist Republic was showing “blasphemous content” from July 2011.
  • Twitter, a Significant Social Media Intermediary (SSMI), has taken no steps to remove such content
  • In a blatant violation of Indian laws, Twitter has allegedly been acting as an accomplice to the crime and showing such blasphemous and insulting content about Maa Kali.
  • Twitter through its platform is allegedly deliberately promoting hate speech about the Hindu religion which, is in violation of provisions of the Indian Penal Code, 1860 in light of section 79 of the Information Technology Act, 2000.
  • Maheshwari and Kamran “deliberately” did not take action against the content even after a month

Police cases against Maheshwari

Ever since the ‘manipulated media’ tag controversy, Twitter India’s Manish Maheshwari has been in the crosshairs of many Twitter-related controversies in the country —

  • Madhya Pradesh police booked a case against Twitter India’s Manish Maheshwari after the social media platform posted an inaccurate depiction of India’s map on their website, confirmed an MP Police official to MediaNama.
  • The Uttar Pradesh Police named Twitter India head Manish Maheshwari in a first information report (FIR) over a map on Twitter’s website showing Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh as a separate country.
  • Ghaziabad Police sent two legal notices to Maheshwari in connection with a viral video of an elderly man in the Loni area of UP being assaulted.
  • Delhi Police had served a notice to Maheshwari in connection with the ‘manipulated media’ tag on a few posts made by BJP politicians.

Action against Twitter: Result of non-compliance with IT Rules?

During the hearing of Maheshwari’s petition against the UP police in the Ghaziabad assault video case, UP Police’s counsel said that the FIR that was registered against Twitter in the case was directly related to non-compliance to IT Rules 2021. “The whole FIR is regarding non-compliance with the IT Rules 2021 by Twitter in India. All we want is cooperation from them. The company has a responsibility towards the country,” Prasanna Kumar, UP Police’s counsel said.

This is probably the first time that a representative of a public authority has correlated the action sought against Twitter India and Twitter Inc, with the social media company’s non-compliance with the IT Rules 2021; the last date to comply with the IT Rules was May 26. The Union government has repeatedly said that a significant social media intermediary (SSMI) which does not comply with the rules will lose exemption from liability under the IT Act 2000.

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