This statement was originally published on on 17 April 2021.

Freedom Forum is alarmed over the harassment of journalists who have been reporting about a secret agreement between a foreign official and the prime minister.

Security forces raided the residence of journalist Babin Sharma and his office for sharing a news story originally published by the Ujyaalo News Network on April 16. Sharma is associated with the online news portal. Reporters at Ujyaalo News Network were also harassed and threatened over the news, which was dismissed by authorities as “fake news”.

With the growing penetration of the internet, social media have become a popular digital public sphere in Nepal of late. As a result, the dissemination of critical news and the debate over whether it is “fake news” or not and the harassment mounted against journalists have amplified accordingly.

Freedom Forum is always in support of journalists’ right to free reporting and freedom of expression, in the interest of providing information to the people without any obstruction. Journalists must not be harassed and their homes and offices raided. FF vehemently condemns the raid.

There is already an institution tasked with looking after news content, Nepal’s Press Council. So the concerned parties can approach the Council in case they are dissatisfied with any news content, rather than attempting to treat a journalist as a criminal.

To this, Freedom Forum Executive Chief Taranath Dahal said, “Although the debate whether the news was ‘fake news’ is a good trend in order to challenge misinformation/disinformation from the news that is produced by the journalistic profession, the intimidation of journalists merely for news publication and dissemination is unacceptable. It is not security persons or the government who will determine the ‘fake news’ but the independent and professional fact-checkers. So, the government must stop intimidating journalists, but take rightful measures to identify ‘fake news’ and respect freedom of expression.”

SOURCE: Media Freedom Forum (Nepal), IFEX