On March 28th, the Delhi High Court asked Twitter why it had not banned accounts that posted objectionable content against a Hindu goddess. Vipin Sanghi, acting Chief Justice, and Justice Navin Chawla made the statement during Aditya Singh Deshwal’s hearing on Monday.
In July last year, Deshwal filed a complaint against Twitter to target Atheist Republic’s Twitter account for posting hurtful images of the Goddess Kali.
Deshwal contended that Atheist Republic’s tweets were highly objectionable and were aimed at demeaning and insulting Hinduism. Atheist Republic has made a “deliberate attempt to wilfully outrage and hurt the religious sentiments of the Hindus to promote religious animosity amongst the people of this country,” Deshwal said. In this hearing he also further sought to ban Atheist Republic’s Twitter account in total.
He also accused Twitter of being an accomplice by allowing Atheist Republic’s post.
Both judges remarked that the issue is about how people feel about the sensitive content. “If these kinds of things were done in relation to another religion, you would be much more careful, more sensitive,” the judges said.
Sidharth Luthra, US Twitter’s senior counsel, who appeared during the hearing, explained that Twitter “cannot block any individual.” Twitter cannot take down content without a court order, Luthra added.
“If this is the logic, then why have you blocked Mr. Trump,” the court countered Luthra.
In 2021, two days after the January 6 attack on the U.S. capitol building, Twitter announced that it permanently suspended ex-president Trump’s account. “We have permanently suspended the account due to the risk of further incitement of violence,” Twitter announced.
Since Twitter “has not questioned the prima facie view of the court with respect to the nature of the content,” Twitter should have “on its own, without waiting for today’s hearing, taken down the posts mentioned by the petitioner as early as December 9, 2021,” the court continued.
The court also challenged Twitter to present their policy behind Trump’s suspension from Twitter, claiming that they should have done the same with the Atheist Republic.
According to Harish Vaidyanathan, a lawyer for India’s central government, a procedure that blocks petitioned Twitter accounts exist. The court eventually prompted the central government to explore blocking Atheist Republic’s Twitter account under the Information Technology Act.
Atheist Republic’s lawyers intervened and argued that the petitioner’s original wish to have the “offending” tweets removed has been fulfilled as they were now blocked to Indian users, so the court should not go forward with banning the Twitter account in total. They also argued that Atheist Republic must be made a party to the proceedings if coercive action will be taken against the organization, and that any blocking by either Twitter or the government of India should only occur after Atheist Republic has been heard in court. Their submissions were taken into account and the intervention was allowed.
The court also ordered Atheist Republic to submit an affidavit, within two weeks, detailing its status, location, presence of any place of business, and authorized representatives in India.
The matter will be heard in court again on Sept. 6, 2022.
Atheist Republic has set up a fundraiser to help cover the cost of the ongoing legal fees. Finding and retaining quality lawyers is not an inexpensive expense, and anything that you can contribute helps our organization immensely.
On March 27th, Atheist Republic had received an email from Twitter Legal which stated “ Twitter has received a court order from the High Court ofDelhi at New Delhi regarding your Twitter account, @AtheistRepublic, that claims [that] content violates the law(s) of India.” Importantly, the email also noted that, “In order to comply with Twitter’s obligations under India’s local laws, we have withheld this content in India; the content remains available elsewhere.” The email also contained a copy of the court order.
On April 1st, the Atheist Republic Twitter account was fully suspended without any formal written notice from Twitter, and no detailing of any community guidelines or terms of service, if any, were violated.
Susanna McIntyre, Atheist Republic’s President & CEO said,