Protests and court appeals as Nepal’s TikTokers decry government ban on app, Asia News

KATHMANDU — Nepali TikTok creator Manjita Manandhar was caught off guard when the Himalayan nation banned the popular social media platform last week for disturbing “social harmony and goodwill”.

“I was shocked as the decision came suddenly,” said Manandhar, who earns about US$1,500 (S$2,000) a month by making content for restaurants, hotels and brands, and posting them on the app.

“Business has halved since the ban and the income from other social platforms like Instagram and YouTube is not enough to support this loss,” she said. The 26-year-old splits her income with a videographer and a manager, who oversees communication with clients.

Nepal’s centre-left coalition government is the latest to ban the app. TikTok is owned by China-based ByteDance, and several countries have raised concerns over its proximity to the Chinese government and hold over user data across the world.

Neighbour India banned TikTok along with dozens of other apps by Chinese developers in June 2020, saying that they could compromise national security and integrity.

Many Nepalis, however, said the ban has cut off a source of income and shut down a forum for free speech.

Dozens of people held protests in Kathmandu demanding the government revoke the ban, while others filed petitions against it at the Supreme Court. The court has asked the government to provide, in writing, its reasons for the ban before a Dec 5 hearing.

Rajib Subba, an expert on cyber security, said the ban had affected many people for whom the app was “a social medium of livelihood, creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and advocacy”. There are about 2.2 million TikTok users in Nepal, said Sudhir Parajuli, president of the Internet Service Providers’ Association of Nepal (ISPAN).

In a letter to Nepal’s telecom regulator, TikTok said it routinely addresses “content and behaviour” that violate its community guidelines. It did not provide any details.

More than 1,600 cyber crime cases, most of them related to TikTok, have been registered over the last four years in Nepal, according to local media reports.

Nepali housewife Sushila Pokharel, a regular user of the platform who posts videos of her dancing and singing, said the ban deprives people of a source of recreation.

“Stop anything bad in it, but it is wrong to ban the app completely,” she said.

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