Fair Twitter Probe Possible With Delhi Police’s Vindictive Stand?

Delhi Police seems to be acting like a spokesperson of the Centre – and not as an independent investigating agency. 

5 min read
While the law expected Delhi Police to commit to free and fair investigation, the agency chose to act as an unofficial spokesperson of the government.

On Thursday, 27 May, Delhi Police gave a statement to news agency ANI in response to Twitter’s press release on the police raid at its Delhi office.

Earlier on Thursday, Twitter had issued a statement saying, “We, alongside many in civil society in India and around the world, have concerns with regards to the use of intimidation tactics by the police in response to enforcement of our global Terms of Service as well as with core elements of the new IT Rules.”

The company’s statement came amid its clash with the government over the Congress ‘toolkit’ row and the tagging of BJP leaders’ posts as ‘manipulated media’. A team of the Delhi Police Special Cell had paid a visit to Twitter India’s offices earlier this week, after serving a notice to the company.

In responding to Twitter’s press release, Delhi Police acted like a spokesperson of the central government – and not as an independent investigating agency. These practices of selectively revealing information collected during the investigation, as well as making personal remarks on the accused pending investigation, is a blatant violation of the law laid down by various high courts – and go against the principle of fair investigation.

What Delhi Police Officials Said

Talking to ANI, senior officials of the investigating agency described Twitter’s statement as “designed to impede a lawful inquiry” and “devised to seek dubious sympathy.”

“We have come across press reports that quote Twitter Inc statements pertaining to the ongoing inquiry by us. Prima facie, these statements are not only mendacious, but designed to impede a lawful inquiry by a private enterprise.”
ANI quoted Delhi Police officials as saying

As further quoted by ANI, Delhi Police accused the social media website as “purporting to be both the investigating agency and the adjudicating authority”.

“Twitter, being a public platform, must lead in demonstrating transparency in its functioning and should bring clarity into subject matters of public domain. Since the matter has been put in public domain, it’s important to set the record straight on tendentious statement made.”
ANI quoted Delhi Police officials as saying

Delhi Police then went on to accuse Twitter of peddling “contrived fear-mongering” and “evading investigation”. However, the agency did not stop there. They further went on to divulge information from the investigation to pass value judgements on Twitter.

“When served a notice to bring relevant material on record, Twitter India’s subsidiary TCIPL’s Managing Director chose to adopt a path of evasiveness instead of cooperation... claim made by the MD runs contrary to his very own previous press interviews wherein he elaborately discussed Twitter’s plan to devise methods to identify abusive/manipulative content. The above interview makes it clear that Twitter India’s convoluted stance is similar to a deer caught in the headlights.”
Delhi Police 

The Law on Police Statements to Media

The Supreme Court as well as various high courts have time and again reiterated that police should refrain from making statements about the accused to the media while the investigation is still pending.

Recently, the Delhi High Court had pulled up the Delhi Police using the same tactic of passing value judgements on the accused in the Delhi riots accused Devangana Kalita’s case.

Reprimanding Delhi Police, the Delhi High Court had categorically stated that the police or any other agency cannot use media to influence public opinion against an accused while the matter is still being investigated.

The court had further debunked the police’s argument of “defaming the agency”. The court said that the police cannot equate itself on the same footing as the accused, as the latter has all the rights to make statements proving his or her innocence.

The court also noted that “selective disclosure of information calculated to sway the public opinion” against an accused, to use media to “besmirch the reputation or credibility” of the accused and to make “questionable claims of solving cases and apprehending the guilty” when the investigation is at nascent stage, would clearly be impermissible.

Even the Supreme Court, in the Romila Thapar case, reiterated this position of law. The apex court strictly proscribed police making selective statements to the press to influence public opinion, especially when the investigation is still on.

“The use of the electronic media by the investigating arm of the state to influence public opinion during pendency of an investigation subverts the fairness of the investigation. The police are not the adjudicators nor do they pronounce upon guilt.”
Supreme Court

How Police Should Have Behaved

Ironically, Delhi Police’s scathing statements against Twitter, an organisation they are conducting an investigation on, violates the directions issued by their own parent ministry – the Union Ministry of Home Affairs.

The Ministry of Home Affairs’ (MHA’s) office memorandum dated 1 April 2010 stipulates that due care should be taken by the police to ensure that there is no violation of any legal, privacy, and human rights of the accused/victims, and the police while briefing the media should not make any opinionated or judgmental statements.

The said memorandum also prescribes as to at what stages can the police make statements to the media. It says that media briefing should only be done at the following stages:

  1. Registration of the case
  2. arrest of accused person
  3. filing of the charge sheet
  4. final outcome of the case: Conviction/acquittal

It is evident that in the present case, Delhi Police’s statements against Twitter were not only an effort to influence public opinion but were also untimely – not fitting into any of the stages stipulated in the MHA’s memorandum.

The guidelines stipulated in MHA’s memorandum also have the judicial backing. The Bombay High Court in a suo motu case in November 2019 had directed the police to strictly adhere to these guidelines while interacting with the media in cases pending trial.

A Case of Vendetta Policing

Delhi Police’s statements, which were selectively made to ANI, not only go against established directions of the court and the government itself but also attack the core principle of fair and free investigation. Instead of practising unbiased and principled policing, this “press briefing” slips into the domain of “vendetta policing”.

How can Delhi Police be expected to carry out free and fair investigation when it has openly taken a vindictive stance towards Twitter? When they have already pronounced Twitter guilty of withholding information and violating IT Rules? What business did Delhi Police have in passing value judgements against the one they are investigating, when the law dictates them to commit to neutrality?

Delhi Police comes under the mandate of the central government only for the purpose of administration and regulation. The function of investigation and collecting evidence itself cannot be performed under the directions of the central government, especially when the government is one of the interested parties in the case.

The use of terms such as “law of the land” in a same statement where the entity under investigation is being publicly derided, shows less of policing and more of public shaming.

While the law expected Delhi Police to commit to free and fair investigation, the agency chose to act as an unofficial spokesperson of the government. There is hardly a difference between the statements put out by the police and the Ministry of Electronics and IT. In fact, the former seems like a preemptive strike before an official attack.

When the narratives of the government and the investigation start to sound similar, especially when the government is one of the involved parties in a case, justice takes a backseat. The whole process of investigation and policing becomes a tool of social control by stifling dissent, instead of means for securing justice.

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