There’s a lot of noise online making Robert Penner a hero, when he was nothing but an online troll. Foreign journalists and media that remained silent on the blockade and humanitarian crisis in Nepal have quickly responded to and made big headlines out of this one Canadian person in Nepal. Nepali immigration authorities say his visa has been cancelled because he was found to be in breach of several immigration provisions. His visa allowed him to work for a company that no longer exists and he was working in some other company. Ignoring that even banana republics like Nepal have laws that should be respected when you visit them, foreign newspapers and elite Nepalis are painting Penner like a martyr. They’re making it a case of freedom-of-expression, which it is not. Let’s get the facts straight about that too.
He pestered people repeatedly and harassed them continually even when they had no interest in interacting with him. Let’s say, Penner was in Canada where he was questioning the editor-in-chief of a major newspaper like he questioned Kunda Dixit. Would he expect an answer? If not, then why the excessive troll like behavior and a sense of grandeur in Nepal? We hope Robert was not thinking that as a white man in South Asia, he was entitled to do as he pleased, even conduct without the slightest of civility?
Because that would reflect very badly on all Canadians. Canadians people, we know are nice and humble. Not all Canadians agree with colonial ways. Almost all of them have behaved well while in Nepal and we like them. We’d like more of them to visit our beautiful country.
Behavior like what Pinner exhibited in Nepal would be very repulsive and anywhere in the world, and be taken as an offence. Yes white men might did colonize great swaths of lands whose people remain poor to this day due to the ills of colonial era. But I hope we agree being poor or third world citizens does not mean we can be expected to tolerate bullying and disregard of minimal civil conduct? Being third world country does not mean their laws and cultural norms can be trampled upon, does it?
Don’t Nepali writers and journalists, in very credible positions get to ignore an online pest? Or must they respond simply because he is a white man?
Robert Penner barely wrote any original article. His “advocacy” was based on attacking other people whose views he did not agree on by selectively quoting their tweets, and mis-quoting them by isolating particular topics. He went after those who dared to criticize the Madhes Andolan and the Indian blockade. If he excelled on one thing, it was defamation through selective tweets of individuals who had better things to do than engage with him.
He was a fierce critic of those who criticized the Human Rights Watch report. Multiple journalists questioned that report for its language and anti-state narrative. The report pushed the death of police officers and their children to the back or footnotes and only prioritised the brutal killings by the state in the first few pages of the very long report. When journalists and writers refused to respond to his pestering, he began to harass them through repeated mentions (clearly meant to defame each one of them), and took to stalking tweets months after he had been blocked for his harassment.
His efforts were supported mostly by those who call themselves “progressives” and were in favor of the Madhes Andolan. The Andolan led not only to gruesome deaths, but closure of schools for months on end. It accompanied a blockade by India. The blockade pushed Nepal’s economy to a state of collapse. The blockade created shortage of essential medicines and shortage of reconstruction goods for those severely affected by the earthquake.
Mr. Penner pushed all of the above to the side in his online harassment of the liberals who questioned the blockade, India’s involvement in it and the violent means used to push the Madhes Andolan. Note that none of the famous people he attacked belligerently were against protest as such. They were against the use of violence in it.
Robert took a clear political side the last few months. He actively lobbied for a narrow political interest group that pushed violent means for politics goals. During this, he was working for a software company. Nepal’s laws don’t allow such behavior.
He diligently went after the liberal school of thought, while staying mute about misreporting from those who represented the radical school of thought – like Prashant Jha (whose ideology he began to mimic) and Subina Shrestha who created good reports about the protests but pushed an anti-state narrative by glorifying the unrest, justifying violence and ignoring the pains of the blockade or how India punished Nepal for promulgating a secular constitution.
Penner also had delusions of grandeur where he thought those he attacked were actually obsessed about him. He misquoted tweets from those who had blocked him, like Shiwani Neupane, and played victim to her tweets. His harassment was tactical, and he often acted together with the same group of people who bully and harass others.
It’s quite shocking and deeply disturbing to see famous journalists and writers publicly tout an online troll as a hero, when credible writers and journalists have repeatedly called on his harassment, stalking and very creepy behavior.
Robert Penner was an online bully and nothing else, and while the actions of the government are shocking to say at the least, let’s not tout this bully a hero. He has never answered questions asked to him about the factual mistakes and ignorance in his arguments. When others ignored some of his questions, he’d endlessly demand apology as if they owed him something.
A real scrutineer of truth would hold himself to the same standards and apologize when pointed to factual mistakes. But no, he’d very coyly form a group of online trolls and attack those with different views, pretending no one has seen through his ways. This is not heroism. This is cowardice.
He went after a group of 5-7 journalists for months on end to simply defame and discredit their viewpoint. It wouldn’t be unfair to call him intolerant of the liberal viewpoint, and ironically the government has displayed similar intolerance on him.