Peace panel summons Facebook reps for Nov 2 hearing on Delhi riots
The Delhi assembly’s peace and harmony committee has issued a notice to Facebook, asking the company to send by October 31 the names and designations of representatives who will appear before it for a hearing on November 2 in connection with the February 2020 riots in the national capital.
The notice, a copy of which HT has seen, added that the failure in complying with the notice could lead to proceedings for breach of contempt/privilege of the assembly. It could mark the next round in the confrontation between the Delhi assembly and the social media company on its role in Delhi in February last year in which at least 53 people were killed.
“The committee is examining the communal disharmony that led to the violence in Delhi last year, with a view to recommending suitable measures to defuse the situation and restore harmony among religious communities, linguistic communities or social groups,” the notice said.
Headed by Rajendra Nagar MLA and senior Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) leader Raghav Chadha, the panel justified the notice citing the Supreme Court’s July 8 order upholding the powers of the panel to summon both members and non-members including representatives of Facebook.
In a tweet on Thursday, Chadha said: “The committee has decided to call upon Facebook India representatives to depose on November 2 on the important role of social media in curbing the spread of false and malicious messages which can fan disharmony and adversely impact peace.”
He added that the proceedings will be live-streamed for greater transparency, because the matter is of “great public importance”.
The panel is conducting an inquiry into the communal riots that hit Delhi in February last year, killing 53 people. This comes after the Delhi legislative assembly panel told the Supreme Court in October 2020 that it had summoned Facebook India vice-president and managing director Ajit Mohan as a witness to ascertain the social media platform’s views on whether it contributed in any way to the build-up of the February, 2020 communal violence.
The panel wanted to elicit suggestions on how social media platforms could be used to strengthen unity among citizens in the future and Facebook executives were summoned as witnesses, not as accused, an affidavit filed by Delhi deputy secretary Sadanand Sah said, adding that no coercive action was intended.
Mohan and Facebook moved the Supreme Court on September 22 last year, challenging the September 10 and September 18 notices issued by the peace panel. The summons stemmed from the committee’s decision to look into Facebook’s role following several foreign media reports that purported to show that the social media company may have acted in a political partisan manner.
Earlier this year, the assembly panel issued a fresh notice to Facebook India, asking that a “senior competent person” appear and testify before it.
Mohan has previously questioned the jurisdiction of the panel.
“Facebook cannot excuse themselves from appearing pursuant to the new summons issued to them on February 3, 2021... Facebook is a platform where political differences are reflected. They cannot wash their hands off the issue as this is their very business,” said the top court’s July 8 order.
At the same time, the court clarified that the panel cannot become a “prosecuting agency” which can hold people guilty and order filing of charge sheets in the riot cases. The Facebook executive will be at liberty not to answer questions relating to law and order and police, while such a refusal cannot lead to any coercive step by the assembly, said the bench.
Neither Facebook spokespersons nor Chadha responded to requests seeking comment.
The panel, in February, asked for a “senior competent person” of Facebook to appear and testify before it and help in its inquiry into the violence.