Top Nepal court demands police justify reporter's arrest

Nepal's top court Friday demanded an explanation from police over the arrest of a journalist at a protest outside government offices in Kathmandu, the latest incident to spark fears over free speech in the Himalayan nation.

Police arrested Shesh Narayan Jha, who works for a Nepali magazine, on Monday together with a protester who splashed red paint on the walls of the Singha Durbar government complex.

Jha says he was simply taking photos but police say he was involved in the protest against alleged excessive use of force by security officials during recent anti-charter demonstrations, in which 50 people died.

In Nepal a new constitution adopted in September meant to cement peace and bolster the nation's transformation to a democratic republic after decades of poli...

In Nepal a new constitution adopted in September meant to cement peace and bolster the nation's transformation to a democratic republic after decades of political instability and a 10-year Maoist insurgency which ended in 2006 ©Prakash Mathema (AFP/File)

"The Supreme Court today issued a show cause notice to the district administration and the police in Kathmandu... for arresting the two men on the charge of painting the walls of Singha Durbar red," said Rakchhya Ram Harijan, a lawyer who independently petitioned the court for their release.

The two men were released on bail late Thursday after Harijan filed the petition.

Nepal's chief media organisation condemned Jha's arrest Wednesday as a "serious violation of press freedom", amid fears over threats to freedom of expression in the country.

Last week a British tourist was arrested for allegedly joining a protest against the constitution. He was later released.

Earlier this month Canadian software developer Robert Penner was ordered to leave Nepal over tweets deemed to "incite conflict".

Nepal's new constitution, adopted last September, was meant to cement peace and bolster the nation's transformation to a democratic republic after decades of political instability and a 10-year Maoist insurgency which ended in 2006.

But the country's first charter to be drawn up by elected representatives sparked months of protests from the country's Madhesi ethnic minority, who said it left them politically marginalised.

Several rounds of talks between the government and the protesting parties have failed to secure an agreement.

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