Journalist arrested in Nepal while covering protest

New York, May 25, 2016–Police in Nepal arrested the journalist Shesh Narayan Jha on Monday while he was photographing a protester splashing paint on the walls of a government complex in Kathmandu, according to the Federation of Nepali Journalists and press reports.

Police denied that Jha was taking photographs, Agence France-Presse reported. “When Jha was caught he was not taking pictures and did not carry a camera. He did not say he was a journalist, otherwise we would have released him,” Prazit KC, of the city police, told AFP.

Jha has been charged under Nepal’s public offense act, according to social media posts by journalists and civil society activists in Nepal. CPJ was unable to verify details of the charge. The journalist’s case is due to heard in court on Thursday, AFP reported.

“Gathering the news, far from being a public offense, is a public service,” said CPJ Asia Program Senior Research Associate Sumit Galhotra. “We call on Nepali authorities to drop all charges against Shesh Narayan Jha and release him immediately.”

Jha, who has reported for several Nepalese magazines, told colleagues and supporters who visited him in custody that he was not part of the protest. Lhamo Sherpa, who was among the group that visited the journalist and the activist in jail, told CPJ that Jha said he was using his cell phone to photograph the protest. CPJ was unable to determine which outlet Jha was working for at the time of his arrest.

The activist who Jha was photographing at the time of his arrest was demanding an investigation into allegations that security officials used excessive force during demonstrations over the country’s new constitution by the minority Madhesi ethnic group, in which dozens were killed, AFP reported. Jha is a member of the Madhesi group, according to local journalists.

Jha’s arrest follows the expulsion this month by Nepali authorities of Canadian social media user Robert Penner. Immigration authorities revoked Penner’s visa because of his social media posts, which are frequently critical of the government, according to press reports. Last month, authorities briefly detained veteran journalist Kanak Mani Dixit, the founding editor of the independent regional news magazine Himal Southasian on allegations of corruption, CPJ research shows.