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Abuse of authority escalates in Nepal; FF condemns journalist Pathak's arrest

Yet again, journalist and board member of the state-owned broadcaster Radio Nepal, Dipak Pathak, has been arrested from Bhaktapur on April 30, 2020, in alleged criticism of co-chairperson of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) Pusha Kamal Dahal on social media.

According to FF's representative Ashok Dahal, Pathak had posted serious of Facebook updates, criticizing Dahal and his political moves in the last few weeks. The arrest of Pathak comes at a time when dispute between Prime Minister K P Oli-led faction and another faction led by co-chairperson Dahal is escalating in the ruling party.

Co-Chair Dahal's Press Advisor Bishnu Sapkota had filed a complaint against Pathak at Press Council Nepal (PCN), the media regulatory body, demanding action against Pathak for the Facebook post, said representative Dahal.

"Police detained Pathak today with prior permission from the court after complaints from an individual and PCN for his social media posts that attracts the Electronic Transaction Act. We are planning to file a case against him at the court under the same law," said Nabinda Aryal Cyber Bureau Chief of Nepal Police. According to the police, he has been remanded into custody for further investigation.

It is worrying to learn that PCN wrote to the Nepal Police and Ministry of Communication and Information Technology demanding action against Pathak for writing criticism against Chairman Dahal.

Lately, the government has been arresting civilians and journalists for social media posts in the name of 'cybercrime' invoking Electronic Transaction Act (ETA).

Former government secretary Bhim Upadhyaya was released after court order recently after spending six days on police custody for criticizing the politicians and government officials on Twitter.

Freedom Forum condemns the arrest of Pathak because it is the violation of his right to free expression. Freedom of expression is the fundamental right in Nepal and can't be breached. But the government has been abusing the law and authority and escalating surveillance on its citizens. It is deplorable.

Moreover, Council too has gone beyond its jurisdiction for it has urged police and ministry to take action against Pathak. ETA  is misused frequently by the government to silence criticism, which is unacceptable to democratic rights- the right to information and free expression. FF requests police to release Pathak without any condition.

However, in case, Pathak's view defames leader Dahal, separate legal course can be taken but not arrested as criminal.

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