Freedom of expression at its hypocrisy

Many politicians are using social media to express their thoughts on contemporary political and socio-economic issues. Mayor Balendra Shah is the front-runner among them. Most people consider his successful tenure as Mayor to be the epitome of how to use social media as a platform for expression. We have witnessed his tweets/posts from notices and accomplishments in the metropolitan to commentaries on politicians and political parties. He mostly criticizes the leaders of traditional political parties and is more receptive to his tweets and posts, and more people see them as an exercise of his right to free speech.

On September 3, 2023, a social media post by Mayor Balendra Shah went viral on social media, receiving tons of likes, comments, and shares, and condemnation of his post. The post read as “Burning Down Singadurbar.”– the country’s main administrative office referring to politicians as thieves. Later on, the post was taken down, and the Nepal government did not react much. However, in an interview with one of the biggest media outlets, MP C.K. Raut revealed that at a  meeting attended by all of Nepal’s top officials including the Prime Minister and the then Home Minister wanted to imprison the Mayor because of his tweets/posts. Later, the president of the Nepali Congress–Sher Bahadur Deuba intervened to protect the rights given by the constitution, the freedom of speech.

In a different incident, Mayor Balendra’s secretariat member filed a lawsuit against the employee of the Metropolitan, who is currently on suspension for his actions. The litigation filed against the individual is based on his post on social media, which the mayor’s team regarded as a case of defamation. The employee’s post states that the Mayor must be held accountable for hiring 166 employees and paying their salaries out of public funds. The second status expresses his opinion—without naming him—that Mayor Balendra would operate illogically since he is already well-known and will utilize social media to make three crore Nepalese people fools.

In the case of Mayor Balendra, can a violent threat be considered a legitimate form of expression? No, since it is illegal and subject to punishment, it results in criminal charges. Why cannot his employee question him on the grounds of freedom of expression if he can? Yes, there are constraints on confidentiality and organizational discipline that apply to civil personnel, but an employee of Mayor Balendra is just following his methods of working. He is questioning the Mayor in the same way, he questions all of the past politicians. Isn’t everyone entitled to the freedom of expression? Does someone’s place in the hierarchy make them more equal? The mayor used the legal options available to him, but should it be termed the rule of law or rule by law?

This blog was written by Ms. Nilima Maharjan. Ms. Maharjan ​​is a Policy Research Fellow at Samriddhi Foundation, an economic policy think tank based in Kathmandu. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not represent the views of the organization. Author can be reached at [email protected]