KATHMANDU: A peaceful rally was organised here today calling for an immediate release of comedian Pranesh Gautam, who is in judicial custody following a complaint filed by a filmmaker alleging Gautam of cybercrime for a satirical online film-review.
The march which began from Pulchowk and ended at Maitighar Mandala saw attendance of a lot of youngsters, especially comedians and students.
Gautam was detained by the police last week after filmmaker Milan Chamling Rai (Chams) filed a complaint alleging the former of defaming him.
Gautam had uploaded a video review of Cham’s new movie Bir Bikram 2 which Chams found offensive and led him to file a police complaint.
Aayush Shrestha, a standup comic who has been vocal about the whole issue since the beginning shared that the motive of the peaceful rally was to make the Nepali film industry aware that such misuse of power isn’t acceptable. “They intentionally filed a case under the Electronic Transaction Act (ETA) as it is a non-bailable offence,” says Shrestha.
THT Online reached out to Milan Chamling ‘Chams’ Rai for his statement. Chams expressed his dissatisfaction regarding his misrepresentation in the media in this case, “I don’t have any issues regarding Gautam and Meme Nepal’s criticism about my movie. They have every right to review the film. But the words they have used are racist, derogatory and defame me.”
The filmmaker further claimed that he is in constant talks with Gautam’s parents and will work for his release.
However, Aadarsh Mishra, an artist associated with Meme Nepal had a different say. “I don’t know what they want from us or what exactly do we have to do in order to get our friend out of custody. If they want us to leave the comedy scene or to delete the page, we are more than willing to do that too but we don’t have any clue as to what they actually want,” stated a clearly frustrated Mishra.
Furthermore, social media content creators who attended the rally said they were intimated by this whole episode leaving them in confusion about the future of content creation.
Rajina Shrestha, a standup comedian called for a change in ETA. “These are outdated laws. The government has been time and again introducing bills that can be used to muzzle free press. This needs to change,” shared Shrestha.
Neha Sharma, a media student who attended the rally stated the laws should not be misused for selfish reasons. “The provisions related to cyber law are vague. This gives people the power to misuse law for their own benefits,” said Sharma.
Meanwhile, many Twitteratis have also expressed their views regarding Meme Nepal’s history of posting derogatory and offensive memes, which, however, doesn’t justify Cham’s misuse of power.
#MemeNepal has been notoriously controversial for its tone-deaf content but as important as it is to combat cybercrimes/bullying, it should not come at the cost of curtailing someone’s right to freedom of expression. #FreePraneshGautam https://t.co/89lhirGgS8
— चन्द्रिका गुरुङ (@MissChicTweets) June 11, 2019
Well I always disliked meme nepal’s post, 90% of the posts are sexist racist bigoted and with zero originality, the page is total disgrace
but I strongly condemn the recent coward attack. Nepal governmwnt you can kindly shove freedom of speech opinion on your arse! #memenepal
— ish (@iShzz) June 11, 2019
People from the film fraternity, who had maintained silence on this whole issue till yesterday, have now started speaking about it. Actor Reecha Sharma in her Twitter account indicated that criticism should be welcomed by the Nepali movie industry, however, audiences must not be discouraged to watch movies made by the industry which in recent days have found some success. She was quick to add that personal attacks and derogatory remarks in the name of fun should, however, be discouraged.
— Reecha Sharma (@reechasharma31) June 12, 2019
— Reecha Sharma (@reechasharma31) June 12, 2019
Fellow comedians from various parts of the globe added their apprehension:
A comedian is behind bars for something he said about a movie on YouTube. This repulsive & unacceptable on so many levels. The corporate media has failed us & many comedians are the truth tellers of our time. #FreePraneshGautam
— Lee Camp [Redacted] (@LeeCamp) June 11, 2019
A fellow comedian is behind bars in #Nepal and scared, all for a film review he made on YouTube! I’ve had negative reviews but never believed they deserve prison! Comedians are social commentators, we need freedom of speech. This is ridiculous and inhumane. #FreePraneshGautam RT pic.twitter.com/k1qxteQr6R
— Brad Pitt – Comedian (@itsmarcusryan) June 11, 2019
It has also been learnt that ten film industry related organisations have issued a joint press release today. The gist of the statement is that positive and negative comments over any subject matter presented in a dignified way is one’s right, but disrespecting and using derogatory words directed towards a particular person is not acceptable.
The Kathmandu District Court, in the meantime, has sent Pranesh to two additional days in judicial custody at the Teku based Metropolitan Police Circle. The court’s decision on Wednesday came at a time when Gautam’s family, friends, colleagues and the public were expecting his release.