Media persons see the arrests and a proposed bill on contempt of court as an attempt to contain freedom of expression

Early this month in Kerala, police registered a case against the principal and 11 students of a college for using “objectionable and unsavoury” language against Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. This followed the arrest of five others in Bangalore in May and continued detention of one among them for allegedly posting an offensive message against Mr. Modi.

In Bangladesh and Pakistan, people have been regularly arrested for “blasphemous” content on Facebook.

Nepal seems to have taken its cue from its South Asian neighbours. Police has arrested two persons in two months for their posts on Facebook. Raju Sah of Bara was arrested last month for his Facebook post asking for death against Home Minister Bam Dev Gautam for violating traffic rules in full public glare. He was later released

Abdul Rahman was arrested on June 1 and kept in custody for three weeks for a comment on Facebook that was a reaction to a news item which praised the “improved” law and order situation in the eastern district of Saptari.

Just as the debate raged on the two arrests, the government of Nepal introduced a Bill on Contempt of Court in Parliament, on June 8. Media persons and activists see the bill as an attempt to muzzle the press and contain freedom of speech and expression. Some even consider it as retaliation against the media critical of the appointment process of justices to the Supreme Court last month.

“The Bill on Contempt of Court and arrests over Facebook posts are proof that freedom of expression can easily be suppressed even in countries where press freedom is 100 per cent guaranteed,” prominent journalist Kunda Dixit told The Hindu. The government has denied the charge.

Mahendra Bista, Chairman of Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) pointed to some of the clauses in the Bill that he contends do not augur well for media. Clause 4 of the Bill states that “publishing falsified documents regarding sub judice cases or materials that may influence a verdict or erode people’s trust in the court.”