(photo: Sanu, 24, shown here holding her phone, traveled to Kathmandu to file a complaint against a man who she says harassed her online. Kalpana Khanal, GPJ Nepal)
KATHMANDU, NEPAL — The Jhapa district is more than 600 kilometers (about 373 miles) from Kathmandu, the capital city of this tiny Himalayan country. But when Sumi’s ex-boyfriend posted online photos of her, digitally altered to make it appear that she was posing nude, she had no choice but to make the trip.
The 18-year-old, who asked that only her nickname be published to protect her privacy, wanted justice. But the only way to file a complaint about a cybercrime is to appear in person at the Central Investigation Bureau. The cases are then handled by the Kathmandu District Court, says Meera Chaudhary, the superintendent of police at the Central Investigation Bureau.
But 81 percent of all Nepalese live in rural areas and the country has few major highways to connect regions. Coming to Kathmandu is often a punishing, expensive journey and complainants like Sumi say they’re not even given the courtesy of an estimate on how long they’ll have to remain in the city.
“It has been five days that I came to Kathmandu. So far, the case has been only registered. I don’t know when I have to come again for the case and how long I have to remain in Kathmandu,”she says, visibly frustrated.
The Nepal Police’s crime division receives 20 to 25 new cases of cybercrimes every day from across the country, most of which are some form of an attack against a woman, says spokesman Prakash Jung Karki.
Cybercrimes, and the online display of sexually explicit images for the purpose of revenge in particular, are on the rise in Nepal. One hundred and seventy-five cases were filed in Kathmandu District Court between July 15, 2011 and July 15 of this year, Tika Khatri, a court official, told GPJ. Thirty-eight of those cases were registered in 2016 alone. The majority of all of those cases were related to crimes against women, he says.
Khatri could not confirm the number of people who have been convicted of cybercrimes because those records are kept manually, and therefore are not easily searchable. GPJ requested specific data from police, court, jail and prison officials, all of whom said that it’s extremely difficult to collect exact numbers.
Bed Prasad Kharel, an official with the Department of Prison Management, told GPJ that there are three prisoners in the prison system’s central facility serving sentences related to cybercrimes.
Cybercrimes are usually prosecuted under Nepal’s laws related to libel and defamation or those that address computer-related crimes, says Pabitra Raut, a lawyer who has handled cybercrime cases.
Those laws include a range of fines and sentences, including a jail term of up to five years, for actions on electronic media that jeopardize relationships or reveal indecent or immoral behavior.
The rising number of cybercrime cases is in line with Nepal’s online connectivity rate, which has rapidly increased in recent years. There were about 15.4 million data and internet subscribers as of March, according to the Nepal Telecommunications Authority. That is about 53 percent of the total population, up from about 755,000 subscribers in early 2010 – which was less than 3 percent of the population at that time.