The arrest of Pranesh Gautam while raising important questions in the context of ‘freedom of speech’, is also exhibiting severe fault lines of a biased police investigation – despite lack of credible evidence, Pranesh Gautam has been kept in police custody for six straight days.
Yesterday evening, Nepal Police in a Facebook Post accused Pranesh Gautam and Meme Nepal of ‘attempted extortion’. The post said, the film Bir Bikram 2, and its director Milan Chamling Rai, were given a negative review because they were unwilling to pay Meme Nepal for a positive review.
However, an interesting thing to note here is the arrest was made based on ‘an accusation’ – a follow up investigation was not done by the police, and they refuse to release him from custody despite ‘lack of any credible evidence’.
“Gross misuse of criminal justice system”: Advocate Rastra Timalsena
Aawaaj in a phone interview with the Meme Nepal and Gautam’s legal representative, Advocate Rastra Timalsena (also a fellow YouTuber) was able to get interesting insights.
1. That the extortion charges are false:
He said the extortion charges as filed by Director Chamling is completely false and unfounded. The director has been unable to present evidence to corroborate his extortion claims. According to the lawyer, ‘the film’s co-producer had once approached Meme Nepal to promote their content on social media, for which the page owner said there would be a fee, and that was it.’ According to the lawyer, no further communication was made.
2. Director asked them to shut down their page in return for withdrawal of the case:
According to the lawyer, the team representing the film asked Meme Nepal to shut down their page if they wanted to be released. Meme Nepal agreed after a certain deliberation, however, it was not followed upon.
3. Gross misuse of criminal justice system:
Advocate Timalsena, in clear exasperation, said what the police are doing is a ‘gross misuse of criminal justice system’. According to him, the arrest was perfectly timed – Friday afternoon at 2 p.m. – he could not be released on Saturday, and Sunday was a public holiday too. According to the lawyer, the police have the authority to release him if they feel the investigation is incomplete, however are unwilling to do so.
Pranesh Gautam has been charged under the Electronic Transactions Act – an act which is increasingly being used to suppress #freedomofexpression in Nepal. Earlier, two teenagers were arrested for tampering with images of PM Oli and President Bhandari, before that a journalist was arrested in Pokhara.
Pranesh’s arrest and his six days in custody without lack of credible evidence yet again raises questions if Nepal Police can ever be our friend.