Statements of intimidation: Deuba government’s recent attempt to silence dissent

The Deuba government's attempt to silence criticism and curtail free speech raise questions over the commitment of the oldest ‘democratic party’ to freedom and rights.

Nishan Khatiwada

  • Read Time 4 min.

Kathmandu: Two back-to-back statements issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs this week declared, in a threatening tone, that the activities and expressions against the friendly countries are punishable.

The ministry issued two releases on September 3 and 5, respectively, to, according to the ministry, control activities targeted against neighboring and friendly countries. The ministry, however, did not clarify the kind of activities being carried out against the neighboring countries. 

What’s in the statements?

The statement issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs on September 3 reads as follows: ‘Attention of the ministry has been drawn toward the recent activities such as making negative and threatening comments or making intimidating statements, directly or indirectly, through social media or means of mass communication, targeting the development projects being carried out with support from a friendly country, their staff, foreign nationals and their properties.’

The statement further says that the ministry closely monitors and assesses such activities and comments, and those engaged in such activities will be severely punished as per the existing laws.

Though the ministry has not explicitly mentioned the name of the country and the project in question, many believe that it indicates the MCC projects. MCC has become a victim of over-politicization as leaders from various parties have interpreted it to be against Nepal’s national security and sovereignty.

Another statement issued by the Ministry on September 5 is also full of warnings. It reads: ‘Serious attention of the ministry has been drawn toward the activities that cause damage to the reputation of the Prime Minister of the neighboring country by burning effigy, chanting slogans and staging demonstrations.’

The ministry objects to such indecent and deplorable activities, the statement further reads. Problems with friendly countries will be solved through discussion and diplomatic channels as usual, says the statement.

Legal actions will be taken to control such activities and to punish those who are involved in such activities, warns the statement of the Home Ministry. 

As in the previous statement, the ministry has not specifically mentioned the neighboring country and the prime minister in question. But it is apparent that the government was trying to silence voices against the recent tuin incident in Darchula district where a Nepali man was killed after the rope crossing was reportedly cut off by the personnel of India’s Seema Sasastra Bal (SSB).

Why the statements matter

By issuing statements, observers say, the government has done nothing other than inciting more protests. The statements came amid a situation where the public from nooks and corners of the country were starting to protest against the incumbent government’s silence on the case of Jaya Singh Dhami and the MCC. Also, the government has sent a message that it could curb freedom of expression and rights of demonstration of people as both statements warn the people not to engage in any activities and express ideas and opinions that would degrade the relationship with friendly countries.

It is apparent that some politicians have been making MCC an issue of contention for their personal gains, an expert closely following Nepal’s foreign affairs said. “But issuing threats against people to shut up will not help solve the problems. This will only give space to conspiracy theorists who are trying to drag the meaningful project into unnecessary controversies.”

Similarly, according to analysts, the failure of the Deuba government to assure justice in the Darchula Tuin incident cannot be covered up by issuing the statement of warning. Moreover, there are rumors that Indian helicopters have been roaming over Nepali land in the far-west. Sadly, no visible step has been taken from the Nepal government’s side. The government, according to media reports, has sent a diplomatic note to India only on Monday, expressing concern over the Tuin incident of Darchula. 

Former Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli in a recent program termed the present government incompetent as it supresses the youth’s voices. “It is like the tiger at home and jackal in the woods,” he remarked.

Even some Nepali Congress leaders have criticized these statements. Senior Congress leader Prakash Man Singh said that these statements are against the freedom of expression of the public. “It is objectionable that the ministry issued statements to not let people raise their voices,” he said.

Public outcry

Meanwhile, there is a realization among experts, analysts and the general public alike that the current government has been no different to its immediate predecessor in terms of respecting the right to freedom of expression of people. The job of the Home Ministry is to ensure peace and security in the country, check violence and control crime. “Releasing the unnecessary statement signifies two things,” said Tara Nath Dahal, an advocate of press freedom and freedom of expression. “One is that the government has a weak mentality,” added Dahal. “The other is its indifference to the freedom of expression of the people.” Dahal argues that the people should be free to express their ideas on any public issues. Citizens may support or protest the moves or actions of the government. They can protest the government’s move peacefully.

Public outrage is reverberating across the country after the Home Ministry issued two statements recently. 

The government of KP Sharma Oli, which Sher Bahadur Deuba replaced two months ago, was criticized for adopting measures to curtail the free press and right to freedom of expression.

The incumbent government, hoped to be a better one, is proving itself the same. Listening to the public’s complaints and sentiments has become its second priority, says Dahal. “It seems as if the government is fearful of public expression,” he added. “The new government will lose relevance if it repeats the mistakes of the previous government. If it fails to protect the freedom of people.” 

Losing credibility

Questions have been raised on the commitment of the government to democratic values. During the last election campaigns, Sher Bahadur Deuba had pledged his commitment to freedom. One of his statements in election campaign speeches was: ‘People won’t even be allowed to cry if communists are voted to power.’ 

People have been mocking the Prime Minister on social media with the same statement since the Home Ministry issued statements. In less than two months since he was appointed on July 13, Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has shown indications that his government could be intolerant to dissent.

An insider of Nepali Congress said that the statements are Deuba’s apparent moves to “appease” some international forces. The insider, however, refrained from naming the international force. Deuba has clearly shown that he could go to any extent when it comes to remain in power, he added.

This move is aimed at taking the international force into confidence ahead of Nepali Congress general convention which is scheduled for November 25-29, according to the insider.

“Everyone was aware of the compromising nature of Deuba,” he said. “This time, his compromise might cost dearly to Nepal’s democracy, sovereignty and national integrity.”