Umesh Shrestha, editor of Nepal Fact Check, was summoned and harassed by officers from Nepal Police’s Cyber Bureau after publishing a report on the dissemination of ‘fake news’ regarding the Millenium Challenge Corporation (MCC) Nepal Compact fund. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and its Nepal affiliate, the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), condemn the arbitrary harassment of journalists for their work and call for an investigation into the incident.
According to a blog post published by Shrestha, on February 22, officials from the Nepal Police Cyber Bureau in Kathmandu summoned Shrestha under the pretense of a discussion . Upon his arrival on February 23, Deputy Superintendent of Police (DSP) Pradin Tamrakar harassed him and accused him of spreading misinformation regarding the MCC fund, a United States subsidised fund aimed at improving infrastructure in Nepal.
Shrestha, who is the founder of independent blog MySansar and an editor of Nepal Fact Check, a platform that investigates the content of Nepali media for false or misleading information, alleged that DSP Tamrakar threatened him with arrest.
According to Shrestha’s blog, the journalist was summoned by the Cyber Bureau following an article he published which documented a number of YouTube channels, news sites, and social media users in Nepal who spread misinformation regarding the MCC fund. The report also suggested measures to curb the spread of ‘fake news’.
“It is unfortunate that police harassed me even without knowing the content of my article. They asked me who provided the authority to write such an article. They treated me like a criminal. They were not ready to listen to me. They even threatened me with an arrest and tried to snatch my mobile phone when I tried making a call seeking help”, Shrestha said.
Shrestha was eventually released from the Bureau on February 23 after a one and half hour inquiry.
The MCC, an United States grant signed in September 2017 aimed at enhancing infrastructure in Nepal including electricity transmission lines and railroads, fell into recent controversy following multiple interpretations of some the agreement’s provisions.
According to the FNJ, a total of 32 cases of harassment and threatening of journalists from both state and non-state actors were documented in 2021.
FNJ General Secretary, Roshan Puri, said: “The police’s summons, harassment and threatening of a journalist without knowing the core content of the article is an absolute violation of freedom of the press and expression. FNJ urges authorities to respect the constitutionally enshrined rights of journalists.”
The IFJ said: “The Nepali authorities’ unjustified summoning of Umesh Shrestha is concerning and indicates police incompetence in dealing with fake news and misinformation. The IFJ calls for an investigation into the incident and urges the Nepali government to ensure media workers are free from harassment and detainment for carrying out their professional duties.”