As Nepal is struggling to recover from the earthquake and rebuild its economy, tourism is vital because it brings much needed jobs for hilly and remote regions of Nepal that were also the worst hit. The tourism industry is experiencing hardship in convincing foreigners to visit this Himalayan nation since many of them were left aghast after witnessing reports in international media about the scale of destruction following the devastating earthquakes. The ambassador of European Union delegation to Nepal, Rensje Teerink is also trying on a personal level to convince tourists to visit Nepal and dismiss fears that Nepal is still unsafe for travel.
— Rensje Teerink (@RensjeTeerink) May 1, 2016
Meanwhile, international media is sending a different and a rather unwelcome message to potential tourists. Yes, Nepal is a country endowed with beautiful mountains and please visit us, spend your dollars and euros but do not dare to tweet anything negative about our country.
Report in New York Times (based in New York, USA, 1.44M followers on Twitter)
Nepal arrests Canadian man over ‘provocative’ Twitter post https://t.co/Ir6xzgi6TK
— New York Times World (@nytimesworld) May 2, 2016
Report in Buzz Feed (based in New York, 3M followers on Twitter)
— Anup Kaphle (@AnupKaphle) May 3, 2016
Report in The Globe and Mail (based in Canada, 1.29M followers on Twitter)
Canadian arrested in Nepal over tweets criticizing human rights https://t.co/g6nHhLqtgl
— The Globe and Mail (@globeandmail) May 2, 2016
Report in Vice News (based in New York, 1.5M followers on Twitter)
— Aakanksha Tangri (@AakankshaT) May 2, 2016
Report in Agence France-Presse, Daily Mail (based in UK, 1.64M followers on Twitter)
— Ammu Kannampilly (@akannampilly) May 3, 2016
To give you some background, Nepal Police arrested a Canadian national Robert Penner from his office in Lalitpur, Nepal. Mr. Penner had been working at an information technology company in Nepal and more importantly, posting messages on Twitter that upset some nationalists who posed as journalists and human rights activists. When Mr. Penner requested to know the cause of his arrest, none was provided.
I repeatedly asked Nepal Police to tell me under what charges they’re taking me but they won’t say.
— Robert Penner (@robpenner) May 2, 2016
He was detained for 26 hours and was then asked to pack his bags and leave within two days. The Immigration Department claimed his ‘unnecessary messages’ on Twitter threatened ‘national integrity’ and might disrupt ‘social harmony’.
Nepal Immigration released me after 26 hrs in custody, cancelled my working visa & gave me 2 days to leave Nepal. Thanks to all supporters.
— Robert Penner (@robpenner) May 3, 2016
The message the bureaurcrats and oligarchs in Nepal sending to potential tourists is clear – “Visit Nepal if you’d like but do not tweet anything that might make us mad”. This is precisely the message international media around the world, based in US, UK and Canada are picking up and sending to potential tourists, which will only make the earthquake recovery even more painful to embattled regions in Nepal that eagerly await tourists and jobs to help rebuild their homes and schools. In 2012, a total of 48,985 tourists from USA, 41,294 from UK and 13,507 visited Nepal, as reported by Nepal Tourism Board.
As ludicrous as this charge sounds, it is true that Robert Penner is being asked to leave Nepal for posting tweets that was unfavourable to the establishment in Nepal. To appease the outcry over this ludicrous claim, the Immigration Department is currently working to come up with other valid reason(s).
The right to Freedom of Expression is guaranteed as a human right under article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is recognized as an international human rights law in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) of which Nepal is a signatory. The article states that,
“Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference” and “Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice”
As these developments unfold, the Canadian consulate in Delhi that oversees Nepal and India relations with Canada published a tweet on World Free Press Day, ironically the day Penner was held in detention for exercising his Freedom of Speech.
Today, we recognize all who defend and promote the fundamental principles of a free press. #WPFD2016
— CanadianPM (@CanadianPM) May 3, 2016
The Canadian consulate is yet to make any overt statements about Robert Penner’s arrest without cause, detention and potential deportation. At least 15,000 Nepalis live and work in Canada and this incident may hurt the relations between Nepal and Canada if it is not handled in a legitimate and diplomatic manner.