Delhi High Court asks media houses, Google to block articles claiming forceful conversion [12.5.2023]

The Delhi High Court on Friday directed certain media houses and social media platforms, including Twitter and Google, to block the links of news reports and videos claiming that a Muslim man allegedly forced a woman to convert to Islam.

Justice Prathiba M Singh passed the order after considering that there was a severe threat which was evident from the comments made by viewers on the news reports and videos available online.

The high court issued notice to the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MEITY), Press Council of India (PCI), News Broadcasting and Digital Standards Authority (NBDSA) and Google LLC, Twitter Inc.

It also issued notice to Sudarshan News chairman Suresh Chavhanke, Odisha Television Limited, Pittie Media LLP, Bharat Prakashan (Delhi) Limited which is the owner of 'The Organiser, Voice of the Nation'.

The high court asked the parties to respond to the petition filed by the man, who is also facing a rape case lodged by the woman, and listed it for further hearing on May 24.

Petitioner Azmat Ali Khan, who claims to be a classical music teacher, sought removal of news items and videos published and circulated on online platforms regarding the FIR lodged against him on April 19 by the woman, a Delhi resident, accusing him of forcing to convert.

He submitted that the reports are in the form of fake news, threats and are severely jeopardising his life, reputation and safety.

Advocate Rajiv Bajaj, appearing for the petitioner, contended that such publication and circulation are being carried out by giving a communal angle to the entire story and it was done to incite hatred in the communities involved.

The court also issued notice to the Delhi Police and directed it to place on record a status report regarding the investigation carried out in the matter.

It also asked the Delhi Police counsel to contact the complainant woman and inform her about the pendency of this petition.

During the hearing, advocate Mamta Jha, representing Google, said since the FIR has already been registered, the originators of the videos need to be enquired.

Advocate T Singhdev, representing PCI, said that the petitioner's email of May 9 consisting of the links of news reports will be looked into.

He also told the court that the PCI has jurisdiction only over the print media.

Advocate Nisha Bhambhani, appearing for NBDSA, said none of the respondent news channels are members of NBDA so its jurisdiction was not made out.

The court made it clear that its direction for blocking the links is for all the respondents including the channels and social media platforms.

"Considering that there is severe threat to the independent investigation in the FIR and to the safety and security of the petitioner, as is evident from the comments and videos which have been placed before this court, it is directed that the links which have been set out in the petition shall be immediately blocked for public viewing till the next date of hearing," the court said.

The judge added that "it is a question of his security. If they (channels) don't block it, you (social media platforms) block it. My directions are clear. It has to be blocked by everybody."

The court watched some of the videos pointed out by the petitioner's lawyer who said the videos released by Sudarshan News and other platforms are extremely derogatory and the comments on the YouTube platform show that there is a threat to his life as well.

The petitioner stated that the FIR has been lodged by the woman with whom he was in a relationship for the last eight years and the allegations are currently under investigation by the police authorities concerned.

13 May 2023