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Nepalese online journalists arrested over news story

Freedom Forum is concerned over the arrest of three journalists over a news story about a women's college published on the Nepali Headlines news portal about a month prior to the arrest.

Police arrested guest editor Sushil Pant and website owner Santosh Bhattarai in the capital city of Kathmandu, on June 20, 2013.

Moreover, when Freedom Forum's Media Monitoring team went to the District Police Office of Kathmandu on June 23, it was discovered that one more journalist had already been arrested in the same case.

According to the District Police, 10 days before the arrest of Pant and Bhattarai, journalist Pushkar Nath Kandel was arrested over the same news story. Kandel runs the Extrakhabar news portal in Palpa, a hilly district in western Nepal.

Journalists Pant and Bhattarai were arrested after Kandel told the police that he had copied the story from Nepali Headlines.

Asked why the journalists were arrested, the District Police said, "After the Campus Chief of the Kanya Multiple Campus, Dillibazaar, based in the capital city, lodged a complaint arguing that the story carried on Nepali Headlines would badly tarnish the image of the campus and the character of the girl students, we arrested the journalists."

The police also said the journalists were arrested as per the Electronic Transaction Act of Nepal, and would face criminal charges. The College argued that the news story carried by the two media outlets was misleading and demeaning to the students' character.

Freedom Forum's Monitoring Team met with the three journalists on June 23 and garnered information about the incident.

"I and my friends take it as a struggle for freedom of expression relating to online journalism in Nepal. We are never against press freedom," said Pant.

The police is continuing its investigation, having taken the journalists to document their views at the Office of the District Attorney.

The Monitoring Team also questioned District Attorney Ramesh Poudel about the case, and he responded that the investigation was being carried out by the police and the documentation of detained journalists' views was on.

From the very beginning, Freedom Forum has maintained that the sudden arrest of journalists because of a news story is a violation of freedom of expression. It is not up to the police to address concerns about the content of a media report, when a regulatory body, the Press Council Nepal, already exists and is tasked with monitoring media content.

"Arresting journalists on criminal charges merely over a news report goes against international standards of freedom of expression. The Press Council of Nepal, and not the police, should determine whether the news content destabilized social harmony," said Taranath Dahal, Freedom Forum Chairperson.

The incident has garnered the attention of journalists and freedom of expression practitioners who are concerned about whether limits will be imposed on freedom of expression.

Freedom Forum demands the immediate release of the journalists, and for respect of their right to freedom of expression, which is guaranteed by the constitution.

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