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Canadian Arrested in Nepal for Posting a ‘Provocative’ Message on Twitter

Robert Penner, a software developer, has been an outspoken advocate for minorities in Nepal. He was reportedly arrested by police for “posting a provocative message on Twitter aimed at spreading social discord."
Robert Penner in Nepal in 2015. (Photo courtesy of David Caprara)

A Canadian software developer and self-described "Nepali issues writer" was arrested in his Lalitpur office on Monday and threatened with being kicked out of the country for weighing in on domestic political issues.

Robert Penner, an outspoken advocate for minorities in Nepal, was arrested by police for "posting a provocative message on Twitter aimed at spreading social discord," immigration authorities told the New York Times.

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"Nepal police came to my office. They're taking me to Jawalakhel," Penner, who according to his Twitter bio is the principal scientist at a digital outsourcing company called Cloud Factory, tweeted.

"I repeatedly asked Nepal Police to tell me under what charges they're taking me, but they won't say," he tweeted, before posting an update that he was being held overnight.

He has since been active on Twitter, but did not respond to a request for comment.

His lawyer Dipendra Jha also couldn't be reached for comment but tweeted that he believed Nepal's immigration department was "under pressure to keep him overnight under call from high level," although he didn't know what that high level was.

Robert Penner, second from right, in 2015 photo with other journalists and the first president of Nepal, Yadav. (Photo courtesy of David Caprara)

In recent months, on a blog called Madhesi Youth, Penner critically dissected the response from Nepal's embassy to claims in Indian news reports that the country's new constitution had created second-class citizens and was discriminatory to women.

In November, he similarly unpacked responses from local public figures to a Human Rights Watch report on alleged human rights violations by police during protests leading up to the adoption of the new constitution.

On Facebook, Penner spoke out in April against the detention of journalist Kanak Mani Dixit, charged with corruption by the country's Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority, arguing that his detention time should be minimal while the investigation continues.

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"He obtained a visa for working at an IT company but he was found engaged in making provocative statements that may jeopardize national integrity," the immigration department's director general Kedar Neupane told Republica, a Nepal-based publication. "Foreigners are not allowed to engage in such activities."

Related: Big Brother India Isn't Exactly Thrilled About Nepal's New Constitution

The department had apparently received a complaint about messages that Penner had posted on social media.

Penner's work has drawn the ire of some in Nepal — a quick scan of his Twitter mentions in early April shows users accusing him of "interfering on internal matters" on Twitter, with some calling for him to be deported.

While it's unclear who filed the complaint that prompted Penner's arrest, some have pointed to anonymous Twitter users who tagged Penner in tweets to an official government account, which subsequently responded.

This is the complaint that I was breaking — Robert Penner (@robpenner)May 2, 2016

I repeatedly asked Nepal Police to tell me under what charges they're taking me but they won't say.

— Robert Penner (@robpenner)May 2, 2016

What is the message Nepal is sending out-foreigners have to stop thinking when in Nepal? We have been open, don't turn insular. Free Penner.

— Prashant Jha (@prashantktm)May 2, 2016

Nepal detains Canada's — Anup Kaphle (@AnupKaphle)May 2, 2016

Neupane said the department would be starting the process of canceling Penner's visa and sending him back to Canada.

Among other reasons, under Nepal's law, a foreigner's visa may be canceled if their "presence seems to cause an adverse impact on peace and security of Nepal or mutual harmony between the people of Nepal" or if they carry out "any other act which is not in consonance with the purpose for which the visa was issued or the purpose for which the visa was obtained ends prior to that time."

David Caprara contributed reporting to this article.

Follow Tamara Khandaker on Twitter: @anima_tk