Journalists across Nepal are protesting today, demanding journalist Giri be released without any charges and the scrapping of Section 47 and Section 48 of the Electronic Transactions Act. The protests were announced by the Federation of Nepali Journalists and carried out in front of all District Administration Offices from 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. today. Fellow journalists also submitted a memorandum to the Home Affairs and Communication Ministries, urging their immediate attention towards the case.
The Electronics Transaction Act 2063 (2008) looks to discourage cyber crime and regulate electronic transactions. Articles 47 of the ETA concerns ‘publication of illegal materials in electronic form’ and Article 48 concerns ‘confidentiality to divulge’. Article 47 carries a punishment of a fine up to NRS 100,000, a term of five years (or both), and Article 48 carries a punishment of a fine of NRS 10,000 and a term of two years (or both).
On Monday, Arjun Giri, founder and editor of Tandav News (a weekly publication from Pokhara) was arrested under the charges of the same – the violation of the Electronic Transactions Act. He was detained, escorted to Kathmandu and handed over to the Central Investigation Bureau who is continuing their investigation. The CIB first alleged Giri published the news from an ‘unregistered’ news portal – Giri proved otherwise. The other allegation Giri faced was of ‘defamation charges’.
The charges relate to a complaint by a local businessman relating to an April 5 article written and published by Giri. The article alleged Bipendra Raj Batas, a member of a prominent Nepalese auto company, Batas was involved in financial fraud. The article said Batas had not paid over thirty million rupees to two businessmen, the remaining amount of an earlier land deal. An investigation is ongoing.
This is not the first time a journalist has been charged under the ETA – further casting huge shadow over ‘freedom of the press’ in Nepal. The arrest has the attention of national and international media rights organisations – the Committee to Protect Journalists, an organisation working towards the promotion of press freedom and defending the rights of journalists called upon authorities in Nepal to not pursue charges against Giri.
However, that is not the only worry – the ETA allows charging the public too. The CIB has made numerous arrests of social media users who post ‘distorted’ images of political/public figures (especially PM Oli and President Bhandari). Their crackdown on social media, ban on porn, ban on online games, alteration of the Civil Code all suggest the ‘controlling’ nature of the administration – and make us worry if our ‘freedom of speech’ is being gradually eroded.