A harrowing tale of detained journalist

Raju Basnet*


I embarked on journalism since 1990 and worked for many media outlets. I became publisher of the Khojtalas weekly in 2006, which made me more energetic in this field. I mostly write about crime and security issues. I guess the police arrested me to take revenge for my reporting criticizing their misdeed.

The police started calling me within few hours after I published a news story about Harisiddhi Brick and Tile Factory and asked me to appear before the Lalitpur Police Office. Police Inspector Resham Acharya again called me to visit the office citing a complaint on cyber crime filed against me at the police, but I said that I could appear at the office only after a day. But, police came to my house in the very morning the next day and took me to the office.

 After I reached the police office, I knew that there was a complaint of defamation from Balkrishna Ghimire for the news story about ‘people’s representative’s attempt to occupy the Harisiddhi Factory land’, which was covered by the Khojtalas Weekly and its online portal. The police released me after I agreed to publish refutation along with the complainant. I published the refutation as well.

Sometimes later, I found a news story on the same issue, which was covered by the Dristi weekly. I called its editor Mr Shambhu Shrestha and took permission to publish the news. He nodded for it. Then I published the news giving due credit to the www.drishtinews.com . The police again summoned me at the office for general inquiry. I thought I didn’t make a mistake, so decided to go to their office. But, when I reached the police office, they handcuffed me and took to hospital for medical report. The hospital found no health problems on me, and asked if I had any wounds. Then police started recording my statement at the office in Jawalakhel, Lalitpur. The police did not allow me to meet my family members and journalists related organizations like Freedom Forum. The case was a cyber crime one initiated as per Electronic Transaction Act, but the police asked me unrelated questions during the inquiry.

I faced 18 questions on the day and they took me to the court for extending my detention. The police behaved rudely with me and extended detention for another four days. I carefully tackled the statement recording. Although the government attorney is responsible for recording statement in such cases, the police itself recorded my statement. It was full of suspicion. It was as if I committed a criminal offense. Later I came to know that after the Crime Division of Nepal Police denied case, Lalitpur police itself forwarded it.

The police invited me for discussion at the office on the fourth day. Press Council acting chairperson, officials and chairperson of Federation of Nepali Journalists were also present at the office. Sambhu Shrestha, who originally published the news was also there. I am not sure they came there to protect me because they didn’t lobby for my release until Shambhu Shrestha was invited at the police office.

I still believe I was detained due to my political belief, I strongly believe in democratic ideology. Because they did not take action against the weekly which originally published the news, the complaint was just to afflict me. The police did not allow me to talk to the media even after the court asked for me release.

I think the incident happened to me is in the wake of the increasing press freedom violations in Nepal. The police accused me of violating recently enforced Civil Code, but the complaint against me was related to cyber crime. The government has included anti-press provisions in the recently enacted laws and I have also learnt that new law on communication technology is drafted with stricter provision against press freedom.

My staffers did not update the online about my detention in the first due to fear that they could also land in police custody. However, they later continued the online updates and publication of weekly regularly. Police tried to seize data of my office computer at first, but they backtracked when I challenged that they could not do that under any law. Despite this, they inspected my office and prepared initial report about details of computer and other assets at my office.

 Basnet is Chief Editor, Khojtalas weekly and www.khojtalasnews.com

(*Based on the interview given to Legal Officer Ashmita Pokhrel and FF’s representative in Province 3, Ashok Dahal)