Friday, May 24, 2024

Delhi HC issues notice on Hindutva Watch, India Hate Lab’s petitions against website blocking

In two separate petitions filed by the founder of research groups Hindutva Watch, and India Hate Lab, the Delhi High Court issued notice and directed the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (“MeitY”) to seek instructions on whether a virtual post-decisional hearing could be provided to appeal against blocking of X account and websites in India.

The order was issued in India Hate Lab’s petition heard on 30 April. The Bench of Justice Subramonium Prasad reiterated its earlier direction from its order dated April 25, in the Hindutva Watch matter.

On 16 January 2024, the Hindutva Watch X account appeared to have been blocked/suspended in the territorial jurisdiction in India. The hate speech monitoring group received an email from X, stating that it had received a legal removal demand from the government of India and that its account violated the IT Act, 2000.

MeitY also directed the blocking of the entire websites of Hindutva Watch and India Hate Lab without providing an adequate hearing — either before or after the blocking — or copies of the blocking order.

Internet Freedom Foundation, which is providing legal assistance in the matter, stated that these proceedings are crucial for promoting transparency and accountability in India’s online censorship regime. MeitY has historically never made blocking orders public or disclosed them, and creators rarely receive a prior hearing before their content is blocked.

“I have filed two separate writ petitions before the Delhi High Court challenging the illegal, arbitrary and disproportionate blocking of Hindutva Watch’s @X account and the blocking of @indiahatelab and Hindutva Watch websites in India,” US-based Kashmiri journalist and founder of Hindutva Watch and Indian Hate Lab, Raqib Hameed Naik posted on X.

The next hearing date is July 26, 2024. Advocate Vrinda Bhandari appeared on behalf of the Petitioner.

The petitions argued that the blocking action by the Ministry under the Information Technology Act (“IT Act”) violates principles of natural justice, the Supreme Court’s holding in Shreya Singhal v. Union of India (2015) 5 SCC 1, Section 69A of the IT Act read with The Information Technology (Procedure and Safeguards for Blocking for Access of Information by Public) Rules, 2009 (“2009 Blocking Rules”), and the proportionality test.

Counsel for the Union of India responded that they could submit the blocking order in a sealed cover. Advocate Bhandari contested the same.

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