Facebook India Vice President and Managing Director Ajit Mohan said on Wednesday that forcing him to appear before a Delhi Legislative Assembly committee is in violation of his right to freedom of speech, a legal news website reported.
The remarks were made during proceedings in India's apex court by veteran lawyer Harish Salve, the counsel for Facebook's top representative in the country.
Mohan has challenged the summons issued to him by the Delhi Legislative Assembly's nine-member Peace and Harmony Committee. The panel is investigating hateful content that made rounds on social media platforms during the northeast Delhi riots in February.
Arguing on behalf of Mohan, India’s prominent lawyer Salve reportedly told a three-member Supreme Court bench hearing the case that his client couldn't be threatened with penalties, should he decide not to appear before the Delhi panel.
The Facebook vice president has challenged the summons issued to him by the Delhi panel on the legal grounds that the regulation of the American technology company didn't fall in the purview of the state assembly.
In its plea challenging the authority of the Delhi Assembly, filed before the Supreme Court on Tuesday, Facebook also argued that its officials had already deposed before a committee comprising members of the federal parliament.
Representing the Delhi state legislature’s Peace and Harmony Committee, senior lawyer Abhishek Manu Singhvi contended that the Facebook official wasn't entitled to protection under India's free speech law since he worked for an American company, the Live Law news website tweeted.
The top court has reportedly asked both the parties to file their responses to the arguments raised against each other.
The next hearing in the case has been scheduled for 15 October, according to the website.
The apex court’s bench said the Facebook official didn’t have to appear before the Delhi Assembly committee until the next hearing date.
Facebook accused of promoting hate content
The Delhi Assembly panel has asked Mohan to testify before it on two previous occasions.
After Mohan skipped the second hearing on 18 September, the committee's chairman and Delhi state legislator, Raghav Chadha, threatened him with penalties if he failed to show up for a third time.
The proceedings of Delhi's Peace and Harmony Committee at the time were telecast live on social media channels.
The panel decided to summon the Facebook India official after its second hearing on 31 August. The committee had prima facie held Facebook allegedly culpable in exacerbating the sectarian tensions during the riots in Delhi.
As many as 53 persons were killed and scores injured in the riots that broke out in Delhi's northeast district in the last week of February over the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
Approved by the Indian government in December last year, the CAA aims to fast-track the citizenship process for non-Muslim illegal immigrants from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
The passage of the law in parliament led to protests across the country. Several members of the governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in Delhi alleged that these protests led to backlash against Muslims, a process that culminated in the eruption of the Delhi riots.
Human rights groups and many among India's Muslims fear that the law, in conjunction with two other proposed pieces of legislation, could lead to the disenfranchisement of Muslims in the country.
The federal government, however, has rubbished the claims by stating that the CAA only helps in providing citizenship to recent migrants rather than snatching it away from those who already are Indian citizens.