Indian court summons Chinese billionaires after “censorship” claims

An Indian court has summoned Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma, after a case was filed by a former employee in India, who says he was wrongfully fired after objecting to what he saw as censorship and fake news on company apps.

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An Indian court has summoned Alibaba and its founder Jack Ma, after a case was filed by a former employee in India, who says he was wrongfully fired after objecting to what he saw as censorship and fake news on company apps, as per Reuters report.

The case comes weeks after India cited security concerns in banning Alibaba’s UC News, UC Browser and 57 other Chinese apps after a border clash between the two countries’ forces.

Following the ban, which China has criticized, India sought written answers from all affected companies, including whether they censored content or acted for any foreign government.

Court Proceedings: did Alibaba censor content?

In court filings dated July 20, the former employee of Alibaba’s UC Web, Pushpandra Singh Parmar, alleges the company had censored content seen as unfavourable to China, and its apps UC Browser and UC News showcased false news “to cause social and political turmoil”.

Civil Judge Sonia Sheokand of a district court in Gurugram, a satellite city of India’s capital New Delhi, has issued a summons for Alibaba, Jack Ma and about a dozen individuals or company units, asking them to appear in court in person or through a lawyer on July 29, court documents showed.

Read more: India is using its economic clout to buy friends in its fight against China

The judge has also sought written responses from the company and its executives within 30 days, according to the summons.

Alibaba representatives did not respond to requests for comment from the Chinese company or on behalf of Jack Ma.

Damages sought against Alibaba, Jack Ma 

Parmar, who worked as an associate director at the UC Web office in Gurugram until October 2017 is seeking $268,000 in damages.

The Chinese foreign ministry said in a statement the Chinese government has always requested Chinese companies to “carry out overseas cooperation on the basis of abiding by international rules and local laws.

“The Indian side should also provide a fair, just and non-discriminatory environment for Chinese companies’ normal operations in India,” the statement said.

India’s IT ministry in New Delhi did not respond to requests for comment.

Sino-India Tensions: Background

Hundreds of Indian and Chinese troops were involved in the latest face-off concentrated in India’s Ladakh region just opposite Tibet.

The two countries have several disputes along their 3,500-kilometre (2,175-mile) border. They fought a frontier war in 1962 and there have been regular spats, though no shot has been fired since the 1970s.

The latest tensions blew up on May 9 when dozens of Chinese and Indian soldiers were injured in fistfights and stone-throwing in Sikkim state. Many Indian soldiers are still in hospital.

The main showdown is now in Ladakh centred around the Galwan valley which controls access to several strategic points on their Himalayan border.

The two sides have blamed each other but analysts say India’s building of new roads in the region may have been the fuse for the dispute.

Both sides have blamed each other and sent reinforcements and heavy equipment to the zone.

India shows its insecurity over Chinese apps

Since the incident, India has banned 59 Chinese mobile apps, including the wildly popular TikTok and WeChat, over national security and privacy concerns two weeks after a deadly Himalayan border clash between the nuclear-armed neighbours.

The apps “are engaged in activities… prejudicial to sovereignty and integrity of India, defence of India, security of state and public order,” the Ministry of Information Technology said in a statement.

“The government of India has decided to disallow the usage of certain apps… This decision is a targeted move to ensure safety and sovereignty of Indian cyberspace.”

Most of the applications are highly popular in India, including ByteDance-owned video-sharing apps TikTok and Helo, file-sharing app SHAREit and Alibaba’s UC browser and UC News, with a combined user base of more than half a billion.

There are estimated to be about 120 million TikTok users in India, making the South Asian nation of 1.3 billion people the app’s biggest international market.

Other apps on the banned list include microblogging app Weibo and strategy game Clash of Kings.

Read more: Made in India: Indian tech seizes the moment after government ban on Chinese apps          Alibaba Jack Ma

But anger has been brewing across India since the soldiers were killed in a brawl along the disputed border in northern Ladakh region on June 15 in the deadliest faceoff for almost half a century between the two countries. It has now manifested in a case against Alibaba, Jack Ma.

What is the Alibaba, Jack Ma case?

The court case against Alibaba, Jack Ma, is the latest example of backlash between the two countries, after the Indian government’s app ban, following which UC Web has started laying off some staff in India.

Before the apps were banned, the UC Browser had been downloaded at least 689 million times in India, while UC News had 79.8 million downloads, most during 2017 and 2018, data from analytics firm Sensor Tower showed.

In more than 200 pages of court filings, reviewed by Reuters, former employee Parmar included clippings of some posts showcased on the UC News app that he alleged were false.

One post from 2017 was headlined in Hindi: “2,000-rupee notes to be banned from midnight today”. Another headline on a 2018 post said: “Just now: War broke out between India and Pakistan”, and contained a description of firing across the disputed border between the countries.

The lawsuit also contains a “sensitive words list” with key words in Hindi and English such as “India-China border” and “Sino-India war”, that the court filing alleges were used by UC Web to censor content on its platforms in India.

“In order to (exert) control, any news-related content to be published against China was automatically/manually rejected by an audit system evolved for this purpose,” the filing said.

GVS News Desk with additional input by other sources

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