The Karnataka High Court issued a warning to Facebook (now known as Meta) that it could order the shutdown of its operations in India if the company fails to cooperate with a police investigation regarding a fake profile.
The case involves an Indian national named Shailesh Kumar from Mangaluru, who is currently imprisoned in Saudi Arabia due to an allegedly derogatory Facebook post against the king of that nation and Islam. Kumar’s wife, Kavitha, filed a complaint with local police, claiming that her husband’s profile was impersonated to post the offensive message.
The police investigation into the fake profile has faced delays, prompting Kavitha to seek intervention from the high court. Justice Krishna S Dixit heard her petition, which was initially filed in 2021. On June 12, the high court had already ordered the commissioner of police, Mangaluru, to explain the significant delays in completing the investigation while a citizen of the country remains imprisoned abroad after trial and conviction, asserting that his Facebook account was hacked.
During the court hearing, Mangaluru city police commissioner Kuldeep Kumar Jain and the investigating officer were present. Kavitha’s complaint stated that Shailesh had been working in Saudi Arabia for the past 25 years and had expressed support for India’s Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) and National Register of Citizenship (NRC) on Facebook.
After allegedly receiving a threat call related to his post, he deleted his account. Subsequently, unidentified individuals created a fake account in his name and posted derogatory content targeting the Saudi king and Islam. As a result, Shailesh was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 15 years in jail in Saudi Arabia. Based on the information he provided, Kavitha filed a police complaint regarding the fake profile.
The police commissioner informed the high court that the investigation has been delayed due to Facebook’s lack of cooperation. When questioned by the court, Facebook’s counsel stated that they had no information about the precise location of the incident. This led the court to warn Facebook that its operations in India could be ordered to shut down if it does not cooperate with the investigation.
The counsel requested one week’s time to provide the necessary details. The high court adjourned the hearing to June 22 and directed Facebook to submit a comprehensive report on the incident and relevant information. Meta, Facebook’s parent company, was included as a party to the petition on May 29, 2023.
The high court also instructed the Union government to provide detailed information on the steps taken to secure the Indian national imprisoned in a foreign jail under false charges.
The court emphasized that the government should disclose whether the individual received legal assistance on foreign soil and if the trial proceedings adhered to international criminal law standards. The June 12 court order warned the Union government that the concerned secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs may be summoned personally if the requested details are not furnished.