On July 22, 2021, the Atheist Republic received a letter containing a legal complaint filed by Akhilesh Vyas, a lawyer based in Punjab, India. The legal complaint named Nirmal Sharma, a law student and a resident of Nawanshahr in the Punjab State, as the complainant. Vyas issued the notice on June 22, 2021.
View the complaint here.
The letter directed the complaint to Facebook and Twitter, sending a notice to delete the offensive posts by Atheist Republic and its founder, Armin Navabi, found on the mentioned social media platforms. The document named six respondents, including Atheist Republic and different Indian offices representing Facebook, Twitter.
The respondents listed on the legal complaint are Facebook India Online Services, Grievance Officer of Facebook India, Armin Navabi and Atheist Republic, Twitter Communications India, Twitter Inc, and the Grievance Officer of Twitter India.
The complaint’s subject is very similar to the previous legal complaints filed against Twitter by a Delhi-based lawyer, Aditya Singh Deshwal. In Vyas’s legal complaint, his client, Nirmal Sharma, came across the “obscene, filthy, abusive, and demeaning graphics for Hindu religion and gods. Sharma saw the posts both on Facebook and on Instagram; which left him feeling “shocked and deeply hurt.” It is interesting to note that Instagram is not named as one of the respondents on the legal complaint.
The complaint calls on Facebook and Twitter to delete the posts, claiming that Armin’s and Atheist Republic’s goal is to “willfully outrage and hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus.” Vyas’s complaint also claims that Facebook officials are in connivance with Atheist Republic, allowing the latter to post illegal and malicious content. The contents referred to a series of drawings and comics depicting sexually liberated Hindu gods and goddesses. These are the exact drawings that were circulated on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram by many users.
Legal liabilities were also imposed on Facebook and Twitter by the complaint. These legal liabilities are grounded on the supposed “willful conduct” that allows Atheist Republic and Armin Navabi to continue posting the offensive images. The complaint also highlighted that Facebook and Twitter violate Rule 3 of the Intermediary Guidelines and Digital Media Ethics Code, which serves as implementing guidelines of the Information Technology Rules of 2021 (ITR of 2021). Vyas’ threatened Facebook and Twitter if they cannot maintain “due diligence” in discharging their duties, their protection under Section 79 (1) in the ITR of 2021.
As of the writing of this article, Armin Navabi’s Twitter account remains suspended while his Facebook account is still active, but completely blocked to all users in India. Likewise, Atheist Republic’s Facebook account also remains active; but blocked to every user in India, thereby cutting off access to over 300 thousand of our members.
Atheist Republic’s President Susanna McIntyre, when asked to comment on this latest legal complaint, stated:
“Atheist Republic will not lose our connection to our community, no matter if private citizens in India, or even the Indian Government itself, continue to use judicial means to threaten social media companies for hosting our content on their platforms. We have built a vibrant global community and prepared the means to stay in touch with them. We encourage our community to sign up for our newsletter here. If we are removed from all social media platforms, we will always be able to remain in touch with those on our email list!