Scripted arrest

Protesters walked from Pulchowk to Maitighar on Wednesday to silently demonstrate against the arrest of Pranesh Gautam, who was jailed this week for reviewing the movie Bir Bikram 2. Photos: MONIKA DEUPALA

The Kathmandu District Court has ordered that YouTuber Pranesh Gautam, who was arrested for his review of the movie Bir Bikram 2, be kept in custody for one more day. Gautam was arrested on 7 June and is charged with violating the Electronics Transaction Act.

Gautam uploaded his satirical review of the movie on YouTube channel Meme Nepal. He compared the film to the Hindi movie Sholay, criticised the acting of the film’s stars, and called the direction weak.

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The director-producer of the movie, Milan Chams, filed a police complaint against Gautam two weeks ago, claiming the video negatively impacted the movie's sales and the director and actors' reputation. The police arrested Gautam, and filed a case under the Electronic Transaction Act.

Cyber law expert and advocate Baburam Aryal calls this an extreme misuse of power. "This shows that the police administration is not adhering to the law," he says. "This is an example of how the administration can misuse power. Such an action by the police is a travesty in a democratic society. Such acts decrease the creative potential of a society and push the country towards dictatorship."

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Nepali Congress MP Gagan Thapa called it wrong to file a case against a comedy video. "Absurdist humour is taken as normal all over the world," he tweeted. "It is unfortunate that Pranesh Gautam was charged with cyber crime for a satire video, and it is against freedom of speech. Criticism is the main pillar of democracy, let us protect it."

Nepal's Constitution guarantees freedom of expression as a fundamental right. Other laws address misuse of speech through slander and libel, so there should be no reason to resort to using the Electronic Transaction Act.

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Citizens are free to react to subjects of public interest and to comment on other people's creative outputs. Being arrested on the basis of such comments is nothing more than a way for the police to intimidate critics. Advocate Aryal claims that since a movie is a 'product,' it is not considered slander to review it, since only negative comments made on a personal level can be libellous.

However, the Producers' Association accuses Gautam of undermining the movie industry. A group of people from the industry, including producer Akash Adhikari, actor Bhuwan KC and media-person Naresh Bhattarai, visited the Metropolitan Crime Department in Teku to support Chams.

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Chams had promised to withdraw the case if Meme Nepal is shut down, but is now demanding Rs10 million to withdraw the case.

Bir Bikram 2 was released on 17 May, and Gautam reviewed the movie five days later. After complaints from the movie producers, Meme Nepal removed the video from YouTube.