Journalist charged under electronic transaction act for reporting about financial fraud

  • Reporters, freedom of speech campaigners condemn the arrest saying journalism is not cybercrime  
- Bhrikuti Rai, Kathmandu

Apr 15, 2019-

An editor of a weekly was detained in Pokhara on Monday for publishing a story online about a local businessman, under laws intended to authenticate electronic transactions and discourage cybercrime and not related to journalists or media.

Arjun Giri, the editor of Tandav News, a weekly published from Pokhara, wrote a story nearly two weeks ago about alleged financial fraud involving Bipendra Raj Batas of the automobile conglomerate Batas Organisation, where two businessmen, Manoj Shrestha and Janakraj Pahari, have accused Batas of not paying them over thirty million rupees as part of an earlier land deal. Following the publication of the story on April 5, Giri was arrested on charges filed under the electronic transaction act at the Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police.

Superintendent of Police Rabindra Man Gurung, chief of Kaski police, told the Post over the phone that Giri had been sent to Kathmandu for further investigation, as directed by CIB. “The bureau will investigate the charges,” Gurung said.

Giri was sent to Kathmandu on an afternoon flight on Monday escorted by two policemen.

“How can you arrest someone on cyber crime charges for just writing news?” said Dipendra Shrestha, president of the Kaski chapter of Federation of Nepalese Journalists. The federation issued a statement on Monday afternoon condemning the arrest.

Before leaving for Kathmandu, Giri had posted a resolute status on Facebook saying journalism is not a cybercrime. “I will continue writing about fraud and crime. My journalism will not falter because of these charges,” he wrote.

Giri isn’t the only journalist arrested or detained under this law, which intends to curb cybercrimes.

According to Freedom Forum, a civil liberty group that advocates free speech, four journalists were detained under this law in 2018.

Condemning the arrest of journalist Giri, Freedom Forum also released a statement. “Harassing a journalist for writing news is against the fundamental notion of press freedom and freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution,” the statement reads.

And it is not just journalists who are under the radar of this law. The government has  been using the Electronic Transaction Act to arrest—and take action against—people based on their social media posts deemed “improper” by the authorities.

According to the cybercrime cell at Nepal Police, 106 cases were filed in Kathmandu Valley in the last three years for posts on social media. Free speech advocates say the authorities have been using provisions in the law as a weapon to curtail freedom of speech.

“There is a serious threat to our right to information and free speech if journalists cannot report and write stories backed by evidence, as is the case with this particular story on the online portal,” said Ashmita Pokharel, legal officer at Freedom Forum.

Published: 15-04-2019 17:56

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