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Clampdown on dissenting voices in Nepal

Veteran journalist Kanak Mani Dixit was arrested by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority. (File Photo)

Veteran journalist Kanak Mani Dixit was arrested by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority. (File Photo)

Guest Post by

Tapan Kumar Bose

Kanak Mani Dixit is one of the most vocal dissident voices on Nepal. I have known him for more than ten years as a journalist, human rights defender, teacher and a builder of institutions.  He has never run away from his responsibilities as a concerned citizen and has spoken out on many occasions against violations of human rights, abuse of power and corruption. One wonders whether the arrest of Kanak is the signal for a new clampdown on dissident voices in Nepal under the new constitution.

Kanak’s arrest and the manner of his detention in a police lock-up in Kathmandu on allegation that he has amassed disproportionate wealth by misusing his position as the Chairman of Sajha Yatayat, a state run transportation company raises serious questions of abuse of authority by Nepal’s Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority (CIAA). This arrest is questionable particularly as the Supreme Court of Nepal on November 2015 had questioned the basis on which the accusations of financial irregularities were made against him.

This is not the first time that Kanak has been accused of financial impropriety. In April 2014, a Maoist member of Nepal’s Parliament had accused Kanak of financial impropriety. The reason was Kanak’s campaign for the arrest and prosecution of the Maoists leaders who were involved in the abduction and killing of Krishna Prasad Adhikari in 2004.

Kanak Mani Dixit has been one of the most vocal critic of Mr. Lokman Singh Karki’s appointment to the post of Chairperson of CIAA by the Constitution Commission in 2013. Mr. Lokman Singh Karki was the Chief Secretary of Nepal under the autocratic rule of King Gyannendra. The Rayamajhi Commission, set up to investigate the abuse of power during King Gyanendra’s autocratic rule, had accused Mr. Karki of using excessive force in suppressing the popular democratic movement in 2006. It is unfortunate that Nepali political leaders did not support the demand for cancellation of Mr. Karki’s appointment.  Rather, it was with the support of political leaders that Mr. Karki, the man who had tried to suppress Jana Andolan II, (Democratic Movement) became the chief ombudsman of Nepal.

As per established judicial practices all over the world, Mr. Karki should have recused himself from the investigation into the charges against Kanak. But Mr. Karki not only did not recuse himself from this investigation, he has been most active. Given the history of Kanak’s opposition to his appointment it is not unfair to suspect that the investigation against Kanak is guided by Mr. Karki’s personal bias. Also the arrest of Kanak on a Friday afternoon, when the office of CIAA and the courts were closing down for the weekend suggests a deliberate intention to harass and intimidate. This was  despite Kanak’s cooperation with the investigation. He had already submitted a 13 page document listing his assets. The CIAA has claimed that as per information available with the Commission, the listing did not include all the assets owned by Kanak. It is a moot point that the CIAA has not informed Kanak of the charges against him. It is not clear whether the assets that Kanak and his family had acquired before Kanak became the Chairperson of Sajha Yatayat were also being investigated.

When the new constitution was adopted by Nepal’s Constituent Assembly, some of us had pointed out that the new constitution has imposed vague and arbitrary limits on the freedom rights. It is an irony that while declaring its commitment to “guaranteeing full freedom of the press” the new Constitution has in reality imposed more restrictions on the freedom of the press than the previous two constitutions. This constitution, unlike the 1990 constitution and the interim constitution of 2007, has empowered the government to enact laws to regulate radio, television and all digital and electronic means of communication. Article 19 (1) of the  constitution, has empowered the government to impose restrictions on the freedom of the Press for instance, and includes an extended list of restrictions in the interest of upholding territorial integrity, national unity, maintain harmonious relations between the federal units, and  incitement to caste- and gender-based discrimination. While one may not disagree with the need for imposition of reasonable restrictions on the freedom of the press on the above grounds, the problem lies in the fact that the constitution has empowered the government to decide what undermines nationality, harmonious relations, public morality and good behavior. The Constitution has also given the government enormous discretion in the matter of preventive detention. It allows the government to hold anyone who may be an “immediate threat to the sovereignty and integrity of, or the law and order situation, in Nepal.”

The fact that Kanak’s wife Shanta was not allowed to meet him in police custody. His lawyers were also debarred from meeting him despite court orders suggests that Mr. Karki’s action enjoys important political support. Clearly Kanak’s opposition to Karki’s appointment and raising the issue of human rights violation by the state and Maoists during the conflict has upset powerful politicians. Recently, the Prime Minister of Nepal rebuked a member of Nepal’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) for criticizing Nepal during the Universal Periodic Review of Nepal’s human rights record at the UN Human Rights Council. It is unfortunate that Nepal’s human rights organisations and civil society groups have remained mostly silent on the arrest and the denial of his right to meet his lawyers. The recent events – the arrest of Kanak, the Prime Minister rebuking a member of the NHRC and the brutal repression of the Madheshi movement are indications of the weakening of Nepal’s democratic institutions. It is not the time to remain silent. It is time to raise more dissenting voices against abuse of power.

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