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HC Karnataka warns Facebook, Cooperate with investigation or face shutdown

The High Court of Karnataka has orally warned Facebook (Meta) that it may order its operations in India to be shut down if it does not cooperate with police investigation over a fake profile.

An Indian national from Mangaluru, Shailesh Kumar, is in prison in Saudi Arabia allegedly over a derogatory Facebook post against the king of that nation and Islam. His wife, Kavitha, has complained to the local police that it was a fake profile of her husband on which the derogatory message was posted.

The police have failed to complete the investigation on the fake profile prompting Kavitha to approach the high court. Her petition, originally filed in 2021, was heard by Justice Krishna S Dixit on Wednesday.

Earlier on June 12, the High Court had ordered: “The Commissioner of Police, Mangalore (Mangaluru), is directed to study the case papers and be present before the Court to answer as to why there has been arguably enormous delay in accomplishing the investigation of the matter when a citizen of this country is languishing in a jail of a foreign country after trial and conviction when his specific stand was that his Facebook account was hacked.”

Mangaluru city police commissioner Kuldeep Kumar Jain and the investigating officer in the case were present in the High Court on Wednesday.

Kavitha’s complaint to the police stated that Shailesh has been working in Saudi Arabia for the past 25 years. He had put up a post in support of the Indian Government’s Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizenship move. He allegedly received a threat call over this post following which he deleted his account.

Subsequently, some miscreants created a fake account in his name and uploaded a derogatory post against the Saudi king and Islam, she said. Following this post, Shailesh was arrested in Saudi Arabia, tried and sentenced to 15 years in jail. Based on the information he provided, his wife filed the police complaint about the fake profile in her husband’s name.

The police commissioner informed the High Court on Wednesday that the investigation has been delayed as Facebook has not cooperated with the police.

When the High Court questioned the counsel for Facebook, the counsel informed the court that he had no information about the exact location of the incident. This prompted the High Court to issue the warning that the operations of Facebook would have to be ordered to shut down if it did not cooperate with the investigation.

The counsel sought a week’s time to submit the details required. The High Court adjourned the hearing to June 22, directing Facebook to submit a detailed report on the incident and relevant information. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, was arraigned as a party to the petition on May 29, 2023.

The High Court also directed the Union government to detail the steps taken to secure the Indian national who has been jailed in a foreign prison in a fake case.

“Union Government should also make a statement based upon records to be given in a sealed cover as to what happened to the concerned citizen; whether he was given lawyer’s assistance on a foreign soil; whether apparently trial proceedings were held with fairness standards as obtaining in the international criminal law,” the High Court’s June 12 order read.

The High Court also warned the Union government that “if the details as sought are not furnished, the concerned secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs may be summoned personally before the Court”. PTI

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