New Delhi, Jan 13: A Delhi court today issued summons to various foreign-based social networking sites, including Facebook and Google, to face criminal charges for allegedly hosting objectionable contents and directed them to appear before it on March 13.
It asked the Ministry of External Affairs to get the summons served on these companies.
The court direction came after the counsel, appearing for Facebook India, said over ten out of 21 companies named as accused in the case were foreign-based and that the court would have to issue process to serve the summons on them.
The court was hearing a private complaint filed by a journalist Vinay Rai against these firms for allegedly web-casting objectionable contents. The summons were issues to the sites including Facebook, Microsoft, Google, Yahoo and Youtube.
“Let the process (to serve the summons) on (foreign-based) accused be sent through the MEA as per the process,” Metropolitan Magistrate Sudesh Kumar said.
The court listed the matter for further hearing on March 13 and directed the accused to appear in person before it on the next date.
“The accused are allowed exemption for today only but are directed to appear in person on the next date of hearing without fail,” the magistrate said.
The court passed the order after advocate Shashi Tripathi, appearing for the complainant, told the magistrate that he would file a fresh list of the addresses of the various foreign-based sites for the serving of the summons through the MEA.
During the hearing, senior counsel Siddharth Luthra, representing Facebook India, sought adjournment for the day, saying the matter was pending before the Delhi High Court and the case file was also in the High Court.
Luthra said, “The matter is listed in the High Court for January 16... No order has been passed by the High Court during yesterday's proceedings. Since the record (case file) is not here, we are seeking adjournment for today only”.
He said that one of the accused, who is chairman of the Facebook, is based in California in the US and the court would have to direct the MEA for serving summons on him.
The counsel for Google India Pvt Ltd also asked the court to adjourn the matter today. He said that summons issued to accused companies Orkut, Youtube and Blogspot have been mistakenly served at their premises here.
The court, which had earlier directed the Centre to take “immediate appropriate steps” in this regard, was told by the counsel for Ministry of Communication and Information Technology that they would file a report today itself.
The court had on December 23 last issued summons to them against which some of the accused companies had moved the High Court. The summons to the foreign firms had not been served.
The magistrate's December 23 order had come three days after another court in a civil case had restrained these sites including Facebook, Google and Youtube from webcasting any “anti-religious” or “anti-social” content promoting hatred or communal disharmony.
The magistrate had said, “It appears from a bare perusal of the documents that prima facie the accused in connivance with each other and other unknown persons are selling, publicly exhibiting and have put into circulation obscene, lascivious content”.
The magistrate had summoned the accused companies for allegedly committing offences punishable under section 292 (sale of obscene books etc), 293 (sale of obscene objects to young person etc) and 120-B (criminal conspiracy) of the IPC.
He had said that as per the records placed before the court by the complainant, there were defamatory and obscene articles pertaining to various Indian political leaders which were being webcast by these sites.
He had also noted that the material submitted by complainant contained obscene picture and derogatory articles pertaining to Prophet Mohammad, Jesus Christ and various Hindu gods and goddesses.
According to the complainant, the alleged contents on these sites were obscene and might lead to “creation of obscene books, pamphlets, papers which can easily be downloaded from these social networking websites affecting the minds of children and were harmful for social harmony and may lead to increase in crime against women also”.