SC restrains Tripura cops from acting on notice  to Twitter against journalist's tweets on violence

New Delhi, January 10 (PTI): The Supreme Court Monday restrained Tripura Police from acting on its notice to Twitter Inc with regard to a journalist's tweet about alleged communal violence in the state. 

A bench of Justices D Y Chandrachud and A S Bopanna issued notice on the plea and tagged the plea of Samiullah Shabbir Khan with other pending matters. 

The bench said, “Issue notice. Pending further orders, there shall be an ad-interim direction staying the first respondent (Superintendent of Police (Cyber Crime)) from acting on the communication dated November 22, 2021 with regard to the petitioner in these proceedings”, the bench said. 

Advocate Sharukh Alam, appearing for Khan, said the notice issued by the Superintendent of Police (Cyber Crime) cell of Tripura Police under section 91 of CrpC to the Twitter Inc has sought browsing history of the petitioner, his telephone number, and IP address, besides preserving of the tweet for investigation of the criminal case lodged against the petitioner.

Alam sought to know since when writing about communal violence amounted to contributing to the violence, and submitted that the police notice was an invasion of the petitioner's privacy.

The bench recorded Alam's submission that the petitioner had put out a tweet through his Twitter account referring to the violence and vandalisation of religious places and had tagged Tripura Police. 

It noted that on November 22 last year, a communication was addressed by Superintendent of Police (Cyber Crime) of Tripura Police to Twitter Inc adverting to the FIR registered against various sections of IPC and UAPA. 

The bench said the communication sought removal of contents of the said twitter account, whose links are provided and the preservation of the content from October 1, 2021 to April 30, 2022, details of user, browsing logs from October 1, 2021 to November 7, 2021 and mobile number registered with the Twitter account.

“It is being submitted that writing about violence will certainly not attract any of the offence to which reference has been made in the communication,” the bench recorded the submission of Alam.

In his plea, Khan has said that he received a notice from Twitter informing him about the communication from Tripura Police and about the inquiry which has been initiated.

On November 17 last year, the top court had directed Tripura Police not to take any coercive action against the three civil society members, including a journalist, in connection with an FIR lodged under the harsh UAPA provisions against them for allegedly bringing facts through social media posts about “targeted violence” against the minority community in the state. 

The three persons, who were part of a fact finding committee, have also challenged the Constitutional validity of some provisions of the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, 1967 on the grounds that the definition of “unlawful activities” is vague and wide; moreover, the statute makes grant of bail to accused very difficult.

The FIR took note of a tweet of one of the members of the civil society which had stated that “Tripura is burning”.

Last year, the north-eastern state witnessed incidents of arson, looting and violence after reports emerged from Bangladesh that the Hindu minorities there had been attacked during ‘Durga Puja' on allegations of blasphemy.