Indian Court summoned Jack Ma who is the founder of Alibaba.com for wrongfully firing an employee after objecting to what he saw as censorship and fake news on company apps, documents by Reuters showed. The case was filed after India banned Chinese apps including Alibaba’s UC News, UC Browser, and 57 other Chinese apps after a cold war between the countries on the border.
China criticized the ban and sought written answers from all the affected companies, including whether they censored content or acted for any foreign government.
In a court filing dated 20th July, the former employee of Alibaba’s UC web, Pushpandra Singh Parmar alleged that the company used to censor content that was unfavorable in China and its apps UC Browser and UC News showcased false news “to cause social and political turmoil.”
The court documents show that Civil Judge Sonia Sheokand of a district court in Gurugram has issued a summons for Alibaba, Jack Ma, and about a dozen individuals and company units, asking them to appear before the court or through a lawyer on 29th July 2020.
According to the summons, the judge has sought written responses from the company and its executives within 30 days.
UC India said in a statement it had been “unwavering in its commitment to the Indian market and the welfare of its local employees, and its policies are in compliance with local news. We are unable to comment on ongoing litigation.”
Alibaba representatives did not respond to requests from comments from the Chinese company or on behalf of Jack Ma.
Parmar worked as an associate director at the UC Web office in Gurugram is seeking $268,000 in damages, as referred by Reuters queries to his lawyer, Atul Ahlawat who declined to comment saying the matter was sub judice. The court case has become the biggest hurdle for Alibaba due to the banning of Chinese apps by the Indian Government. UC Web has also started laying off their client in India.
Analytics from Sensor Tower showed that 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.
ALLEGATIONS IN COURT
India banned 59 Chinese apps after it received “credible inputs” that such apps pose a threat to India’s sovereignty. IT minister said that this decision was taken to safeguard citizens' data and public order.
More than 200 pages of court filing were 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 2107 was that “2,000 rupee notes to be banned from midnight today”. Another headlined of 2018 post said: “Just now: war broke out between India and Pakistan” and contained descriptions of firing across the disputed border between the countries.
Reuters could not verify the veracity of the claims in the court filings. India did not ban 2000 rupee notes nor did a war occur between India and Pakistan in 2018.
The lawsuit also contains a “sensitive words list” with keywords in Hindi and English like “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.
The filing said, “In order to control any news related content to be published against china was automatically/manually rejected by an adult system evolved for this purpose.”
The Chinese embassy in New Delhi and China’s foreign ministry in Beijing, as well as India’s IT ministry in New Delhi, did not respond to requests for comment.