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Appointment of new information minister raises concerns for free expression

(Freedom Forum/IFEX) - 15 May 2011 - Freedom Forum is deeply concerned over the recent appointment of Maoist leader Agni Sapkota as Minister for Information and Communication in Nepal. The appointment of a person who has allegedly committed serious human rights violations to the Ministry to protect freedom of expression has not only trampled on the government's commitment to uphold human rights but has also triggered doubts among the international community about Nepal's future for securing people's fundamental rights, said Freedom Forum Chairperson Taranath Dahal.

Sapkota is named as a suspect in an FIR (First Information Report) registered by the police in 2008 regarding the alleged abduction and killing of Arjun Lama in 2005. Picking a person with a tainted image as a human rights advocate has made a mockery of democracy and the rule of law, said Freedom Forum.

According to a statement issued by the Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights Nepal (OHCHR-N), "The police registered the FIR in response to a March 2008 order of the Supreme Court (SC) requiring it to do so and to carry out a full investigation in accordance with Nepali law".

It is the state's obligation to bring the guilty party to book and put an end to the culture of impunity but when such persons are inducted to power it imparts a message of insecurity, and reward for the predators.

Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal appointed Sapkota despite a pending charge of his involvement in the abduction and murder of Lama. The national and international human rights community had cautioned Prime Minister Khanal and Maoist Chairperson Pushpa Kamal Dahal against appointing any individual involved in grave human rights violations.

Freedom Forum urges all national and international stakeholders to keep up their vigilance in regards to freedom of press and of expression in Nepal, particularly on the heels of the induction of the accused to the Ministry related to information and communication.

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