Growing intolerance makes one ask: Is this dictatorship or democracy

Published On: September 17, 2019 07:13 AM NPT By: Republica

KATHMANDU, Sept 17 : The government, which has grabbed headlines intermittently for curbing civil liberties since it took the reins at Singha Durbar in February last year, is now becoming increasingly intolerant of dissent.

The latest evidence came this week when the government deployed the entire state apparatus and its party machinery to threaten an activist who confronted Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai for causing a flight delay.

As he was returning from Nepalgunj on Saturday evening, Bhattarai, by his own account, boarded the aircraft 15 minutes behind schedule. Once on board, Bhattarai was greeted by an irate fellow passenger who took him to task for making them wait for ‘nearly an hour’. The incident generated huge public backlash as some raw footage of heated exchanges between Bhattarai’s aides and other passengers took social media by storm. 

On Sunday, the authorities arrested Gyan Bahadur Shahi aka Gyanendra Shahi for alleged misconduct inside an aircraft. Bhattarai and senior leaders of the ruling party accused him of staging the protest to bring about the overthrow of the political system. The ruling party’s student wing announced a ban against Shahi from travelling to Pokhara and Dhanusha. 

Shahi’s arrest is the latest in a series of attempts by the Oli government to muzzle dissent, which has become more widespread in recent months fueled in particular by the failure to deliver on election-time promises. 

Last week, ruling party cadres attacked Nepali Congress supporters in Banke. Before that, the ruling party directed its own leaders and cadres not to speak up against the party and its leadership. 

“Incidents like these could fuel discord in society. It’s high time the government realizes this and corrects its behavior. It should uphold tolerance and harmony,” said NC leader Bishwa Prakash Sharma. 

Rights groups and civil society members have long objected to the government’s efforts to push through draconian laws aimed at curtailing civil liberties including press freedoms. More than half a dozen bills awaiting approval in parliament include several controversial provisions.

Intolerance has characterized the Oli government ever since it came to power. In August last year, it had barred Lenin Bista, a former child soldier, from visiting Thailand to attend a conference on child combatants. This came on top of unsuccessful attempts to restrict protesters from using key public venues in the capital, including Maitighar Mandala.

Police released Shahi on Monday amid mounting criticism. But critics say this incident might harbinger harsher clampdowns in coming days. “It’s becoming hard to differentiate whether we are living in a dictatorship or a democracy,” Surendra Bhandari, an advocate, said during a press conference on Sunday. 

Although some people have criticized the use of indecent language against the tourism minister, Shahi himself has maintained that any person in his situation would have done the same thing. “Don’t I have the right to ask questions when the minister causes a flight delay of one hour? Every citizen has been asking this very question,” he said during a Facebook livestream ahead of his arrest on Sunday.

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