Agni Sapkota, Kanak Dixit and the Mirage of Free Press

Nepal’s Information Minister Agni Sapkota has accused Kanak Dixit of contempt of court after the veteran journalist published an op-ed in Nagarik Daily,accusing the Minister of human rights abuse.

Sapkota, a Maoist leader, is accused of being involved in murder of Arjun Lama of Kavre and the investigation against him is still ongoing.

In spite of having a chequered past, Sapkota was appointed Information Minister-angering the human rights and international community, including US and UK. Kanak Dixit and a group of human rights activists lodged complaint against Spakota’s appointment at the Supreme Court. The case has not been resolved.

Dixit publishing the op-ed and calling for stronger stance against Sapkota and others accused of rights violations does seem inappropriate because the case is sub judice. It is debatable how much influence an op-ed has on the Court or its deicison.However, for a veteran journalist like Dixit, it does seem out of character to go out in force against something that should be common understanding-you don’t comment on a sub judice case.

It is also uncomfortable to note that Dixit, a journalist and publisher of influential and widely regarded Himal Magazine, would be involved in this case as a petitioner.

Calling for action against human rights violators and holding the government accountable is a noble deed. Nepali human rights defenders should be lauded for their efforts, but is it appropriate for a noted journalist and publisher to be part of complaint against a minister? When activists go after accused abusers, that should be applauded ; but when a journalist chooses to be an activist rather than a fair and balanced observer, it should be questioned.

Kanak Dixit is definitely aware of a journalist’ responsibilities and ethical boundaries. When he decided to forget that code to be an activist, was he deliberately mocking journalism or is it a desperate attempt to bring some sense of accountability in Nepal?

I go for the latter. Forget party politics and meaningless exercises occurring routinely in Nepal, there is a general sense of frustration among the public-especially the conflict survivors that the perpetrators are roaming free and have yet to face justice. This lawlessness and lack of regard towards the victims is disheartening and successive governments in past five years have failed to do anything to insure that the culprits get their day in court.

Kanak Dixit’s actions, although uncomfortable, are manifestations of the public’s frustrations and desperation. I only wish that he would define himself better-activist or journalist? and honor his professional code because Nepal needs public figures to be brave enough to set the standards high.

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