KATHMANDU, Sept 13: The media fraternity across the country is seriously concerned over the worsening situation of press freedom as the authorities have started arresting journalists for publishing news that sought to expose corruption and malpractices.
While critical news items on online platforms are already stifled through the Electronic Transactions Act, authorities are harassing editors and journalists for publishing such news in print outlets as well.
On Wednesday, police interrogated Editor of Drishti Weekly Shambhu Shrestha over a news report that exposed the move of lawmakers to transfer ownership of land owned by Harisiddhi Brick factory in Lalitpur to private individuals.
Based on the statement by Chief Editor Raju Basnet of Khojtalas Weekly that he posted the news published in Dristi Weekly on its website, Lalitpur police had repeatedly asked Shrestha to present himself before police and furnish clarifications.
Although Shrestha declined to present himself before police as there were no cases against him, police put pressure on him to furnish a written clarification regarding the news after going in person to Lalitpur police office. “We won't be able to write anything critical or expose corruption and malpractices if this trend goes unabated. This is set to seriously undermine the press freedom we achieved through so much of struggle,” Shrestha told Republica.
Police had issued an arrest warrant against Shrestha after he declined to go to the police office without any substantial charge against him. Editor Basnet is still in judicial custody as per the order of Kathmandu District Court on a charge of character assassination by posting news on the website of Khojtalas Weekly.
Police had released Shrestha after recording a written statement whether arrested editor Basnet had sought due permission as claimed during his statement to republish the news published in Dristi Weekly in his online portal. They also objected to the misuse of law on the part of police to stifle critical news and unnecessarily harass journalists.
Shrestha was accompanied by President of Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) Gobinda Acharya, Acting Chairman of Nepal Press Council Nepal (PCN) Kishor Shrestha, PCN member Gopal Budhathoki and senior journalist Dev Prakash Tripathi to Metropolitan Police Range Office, Lalitpur. They had decided to stay with Shrestha if police chose to keep him in judicial custody, apparently to put pressure on the authorities to stop misusing the law to curb press freedom.