Fact Sheet on Robert Penner’s Case

A fact sheet on the arrest, detention and potential deportation of Robert Penner by Nepal Police and the Immigration Department of Nepal.

This post has been prepared by individuals concerned with the threat to Freedom of Expression in Nepal and potential deportation of a Canadian national Robert Penner for his social media posts.

Timeline of Events

May 2, 2016 – Robert Penner was arrested from his office by members of Nepal Police per instructions of Nepal’s Immigration Department and was taken to Jawalakhel police station. From there, he was taken to Immigration office for interrogation.

May 3, 2016 – Robert was released after his detention lasting 26 hours. He was asked to leave Nepal within 2 days. The letter from Immigration Department outlined “social media posting and sharing” as cause of his deportation. See a copy of the letter on Robert’s facebook page.

May 4, 2016Robert Penner filed a writ petition in Supreme Court to request a fair trial against his deportation. His petition claimed freedom of expression should be guaranteed in Nepal to foreigners as well and included several legal and historical examples.

May 5, 2016 – Robert Penner left Nepal for Canada. He went to Supreme Court for his hearing but his case was not processed that day due to a backlog of other cases.

May 9, 2016 – The single bench of acting chief justice Sushila Karki of Supreme Court issued an interim order for the Nepalese government to present evidence that Robert’s social media posts violated the law and undermined Nepal’s sovereignty or social harmony. In the next hearing, both the defense attorney and Robert’s attorney, Dipendra Jha will present their evidence before a final decision is made.

May 22, 2016 – The next hearing in Supreme Court on this case is scheduled for this day.

Facts About Robert Penner’s Case

Fact 1: Robert Penner was arrested on May 2, 2016 from his office by members of Nepal Police and was taken to Jawalakhel police station. The Immigration Department had instructed Nepal Police to arrest Penner. From there, he was taken to Immigration office for interrogation. Penner repeatedly asked under what charge he was being arrested but Nepal Police provided none.

Fact 2: Robert Penner was released after his detention for 26 hours in custody of Nepal Police and Immigration Department.

Fact 3: The Immigration Department canceled his working visa and gave him two days to ‘voluntarily leave’ the country.

Fact 4: The Immigration Department has charged him with spreading “unnecessary messages about Nepal” and “posting a provocative message on Twitter aimed at spreading social discord” [New York Times].

Fact 5: The Immigration Department has produced no concrete evidence to justify how his messages spread social discord, what unnecessary messages mean. Neither has it revealed who filed the complaint and details. The director general of DoI, Kedar Neupane said,

We felt that his tweets were intended to rile people in support of the Madhesi protests and against the constitution. [BuzzFeed News]

Note that a ‘feeling’ of the director general is sufficient evidence to indict a foreign national for spreading ‘social discord’ and deport him.

Fact 6: The Immigration Department is seeking a “voluntary departure”. In other words, it hopes Robert Penner will voluntarily leave Nepal within two days. It went on to say that

If he fails to leave within this time frame, he will be considered as staying here illegally. [Al Jazeera]

The two statements on voluntarily departure and illegal stay are self-contradictory.

Fact 7: Several Nepalis and international media have expressed serious concern for the violation of Freedom of Speech. The Committee to Protect Journalists issued a statement on May 3, a day after Penner’s arrest. It expressed its concern for degrading climate for free expression in Nepal.

“A country where a resident’s visa can be revoked for critical tweets is not one where freedom of the press is likely to flourish,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Nepalese authorities must learn to tolerate criticism and public debate.”

The national media has been relatively silent about this breach of Freedom of Expression despite the CPJ’s statement. Some editors have even gone the length to vilify Robert Penner based on personal vendetta.

Fact 8: Robert Penner filed a writ in Supreme Court to challenge the decision of the Department of Immigration. The court hearing is on May 5, 2016 at 10 am local time at Supreme Court in Kathmandu, Nepal.

Fact 9: Although the constitution of Nepal restricts the right to Freedom of Expression (Article 17 (2) (a)) to only citizens, FoE is a fundamental human right guaranteed under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. UDHR  is recognized as an international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). ICCPR is a binding document that Nepal signed in May 1991. So, it is contradicting that the constitution denies FoE to foreign nationals living and working in Nepal while UDHR and ICCPR guarantee this fundamental right to every human being, irrespective of their nationality and geographical location. The responsibility to defend Freedom of Expression and Robert Penner now rests on his lawyer Dipendra Jha. The results of this case stands to serve as the precedent for future dissenters, whether they are citizens, residents or foreign nations.

Myths & Facts About Robert Penner’s Case

Myth: Robert Penner is being deported because he violated the terms of his working visa by changing employers without informing the government.

Fact: Robert Penner has a valid work visa and has not changed employers. The myth was popularized by an article in My Republica that misrepresented statements by Department of Immigration and wrote,

Penner had obtained working visa for a sprout technology company, which was already dissolved in 2012, but working for Cloud Factory, a foreign outsourcing company, according to the DoI. [My Republica]

This quote was picked by articles in several other newspapers such as Hindustan Times and Business Standard. Both cited My Republica as the source. It has been proven incorrect since by several other newspapers such as New York Times and BuzzFeed.

An official at the Department of Immigration said Mr. Penner had a valid work visa. [New York Times]

He was working legally under a work visa. [BuzzFeed News]

Immigration officials said that Penner had also violated immigration rules by working for CloudFactory, while he had obtained a visa to work for Sprout Technology. However, Penner never changed companies — Sprout Technology is the Nepal subsidiary of CloudFactory, the international company. [BuzzFeed News]

Myth: Robert Penner was reported to Nepalese authorities by two anonymous Twitter users.

Fact: The Immigration Department has declined to reveal who complained about Robert Penner and specifics of the complaint.

The internet is rife with two popular hypothesis about who complained. The first hypothesis points to two anonymous Twitter accounts – one @UnitedNepal1 and another @bibekdhun. See our previous post Get up and Make Noise for details. A complaint was lodged by @UnitedNepal1 through a tweet to @Hello_Sarkar. The latter responded with a case number. Although some believe this could have led to Robert’s arrest, authorities have not confirmed it. After the Robert Penner’s arrest gathered national and international attention, the anonymous Twitter account @UnitedNepal1 has since been deleted.

The second hypothesis points to a heavy-handedness from ‘high level’ and ‘HR activist/UML crony’. Neither of these claim(s) have been verified by the authorities.

Dipendra Jha, the lawyer defending Robert Penner hinted at the pressure from ‘high level’ in his tweet after meeting Penner during his detention.

Similarly, Prashant Jha, an associate editor at Hindustan Times hinted at the ‘HR activist/UML crony’ hypothesis.

Prashant Jha and others on social media have divulged no further details about who the referenced individual(s) could be. We have faith in investigate journalism bodies to discover and present the truths as new developments are made in this historic Robert Penner’s case.

We welcome feedback if corrections are necessary to improve factual accuracy of the material presented here.

Last Updated: May 17, 2016

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