Navigating Freedom of Expression in Nepal: Analyzing Bhagwati Pandey’s Case and Beyond

In the intricate tapestry of democratic societies, freedom of expression stands as a cornerstone, allowing individuals to voice their thoughts, opinions, and concerns without fear of censorship or persecution. Nepal, a nation with a rich history and cultural diversity, grapples with the complexities of safeguarding this fundamental human right. Bhagwati Pandey’s case illuminates the multifaceted challenges inherent in maintaining a delicate equilibrium between freedom of expression and societal harmony. This article delves into the Bhagwati Pandey case while weaving in the recent arrest warrant issued against RK Adipta Giri, shedding light on the broader implications for freedom of expression in Nepal.

Bhagwati Pandey’s Case: A Microcosm of Struggles

The Bhagwati Pandey case serves as a microcosm of the intricate challenges surrounding freedom of expression in Nepal. A passionate lawyer and human rights advocate, Pandey found herself at the center of a storm when she appeared on a televised program on July 22, 2023, discussing the potential health risks associated with first cousin marriages in Nepal. Pandey’s apprehensions were rooted in scientific research linking such unions to higher rates of birth defects and genetic disorders. However, her remarks stirred controversy, particularly within certain indigenous groups who accused her of sowing discord and hatred against their community.

The immediate aftermath of Pandey’s televised discourse vividly underscores the convoluted landscape of freedom of expression in Nepal. On July 23rd, a group, led by Ang Kaji Sherpa, the former General Secretary of Nepal Adivasi Janajati Mahasangh, forcefully entered Pandey’s law office, issuing threats and intimidating her. This shocking incident amplifies the tangible dangers individuals face when their expressions diverge from the prevailing narrative.

caricature, painting, silence
Photo by CDD20

In the subsequent days, indigenous groups sought to file a complaint against Pandey. When the police initially hesitated to register the complaint, citing concerns related to freedom of expression, political pressure was exerted, resulting in the complaint’s acceptance. This episode raises disconcerting questions about the state’s role in stifling dissenting voices.

Ultimately, the sequence of events culminated in Pandey’s arrest on July 26, 2023, after intense pressure from Home Minister Narayan Kaji Shrestha. Charged with inciting hatred against a specific community, Pandey’s arrest casts a spotlight on the delicate balancing act between preserving social harmony and upholding the right to express divergent opinions. The continuous threats and intimidation targeting Pandey, including death threats and threats of gang rape, underscore the hostile environment that individuals who dare to express dissenting views may encounter.

Bhagwati Pandey’s case elucidates the precarious position of those who engage in open dialogue on contentious topics in Nepal. The violation of her freedom of expression, as guaranteed by Article 17 of Nepal’s Constitution and Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, serves as a stark reminder of the ongoing challenges in harmonizing freedom of expression and societal stability.

The Case of RK Adipta Giri: Expanding the Narrative

In the broader canvas of freedom of expression in Nepal, the recent arrest warrant against RK Adipta Giri adds another layer of complexity. Giri, an activist associated with the Save KaliGandaki campaign, became embroiled in a cybercrime case for critiquing Parbat journalists on social media. His sharp critique targeted the ongoing purge of journalists across the nation, particularly highlighting the alleged self-serving motives of Parbat journalists.

The warrant issued against Giri¬† underscores the intersection of digital freedom and freedom of expression. While Nepal’s media landscape offers a platform for a diversity of voices, the advent of social media has introduced new challenges. Giri’s case underscores the government’s authority to restrict internet access, censor online content, and regulate digital platforms. The complexities of this landscape mirror the broader challenges faced in upholding freedom of expression in the digital age.

word cloud, democracy, freedom
Photo by 905513

Broader Implications: Navigating Freedom of Expression in Nepal

The multifaceted case of Bhagwati Pandey and the arrest warrant against K Adipta Giri serve as poignant reminders of the intricate web of challenges and opportunities Nepal faces in protecting and enhancing freedom of expression. The 2022 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices by the US Department of State emphasize the citizens’ belief that they can express their opinions freely through various media. However, concerns linger over instances of government pressure on media outlets critical of the government, leading to self-censorship and the stifling of dissenting voices.

The penalization of defamation as a criminal offense further complicates the landscape, requiring a delicate balance between safeguarding individual reputations and allowing the press to engage in unbiased reporting. The government’s ability to block websites and regulate online content presents challenges to digital freedom, potentially leading to arbitrary censorship.

Nurturing the Seeds of Expression

The journey towards nurturing and safeguarding freedom of expression in Nepal is both complex and essential. Bhagwati Pandey’s case and the arrest warrant against RK Adipta Giri offer glimpses into this intricate landscape, where the delicate balance between expression and social harmony is in constant flux.

Nepal must undertake comprehensive measures to fortify freedom of expression. This entails revisiting laws that inadvertently curtail media activities, ensuring constitutional provisions harmonize with international human rights standards, and creating a regulatory framework that upholds digital freedom while addressing legitimate concerns.

By fostering an environment where journalists, activists, and citizens feel secure in expressing their views, Nepal can truly uphold the principles of democracy. Civil society’s tireless advocacy and international engagement will be pivotal in steering Nepal towards a future where freedom of expression flourishes, and diverse voices contribute to a more informed, inclusive, and democratic society.