Nepal should stop attacks on ‘Freedom of Expression’ says the Human Rights Watch

Journalists protesting against new laws that threaten to curb media freedoms. Kathmandu, Nepal, September 19, 2018. Image: AP

DHARAMSALA, 20 April: The Human Rights Watch has called on Nepal to stop the prosecution of journalists and netizens freedom of expression.

“The authorities in Nepal should stop prosecuting journalists and social media users for peaceful reporting and online expression,” Human Rights Watch, has said.

The New York-based rights group has said that Nepal under the government of Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Sharma Oli has used the “ Electronic Transactions Act, 2006,  repeatedly to unlawfully muzzle speech,” and urged Nepal to review and reform the Act to ‘ensure that any new or revised legislation upholds freedom of expression.’

According to the report, since the Oli government took office in February 2018, at least six journalists including Giri have been detained under the Electronic Transactions Act. while at least 19 people are believed to have been arrested over six months up through January for their activities on “social networks.”

“ Nepalis have fought hard for their democratic rights so it’s especially troubling that a government elected on a promise to uphold constitutional freedoms is intimidating and restricting Nepal’s vibrant public discourse,” Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director has said in the report.

“The government should drop their investigation of Giri and stop harassing people for expressing their peaceful views.”

Section 47 of the Electronic Transactions Act prohibits electronic publication or display of material deemed illegal under existing laws, including vaguely defined material which may be contrary to the public morality or decent behavior or any types of materials which may spread hate or jealousy against anyone or which may jeopardize the harmonious relations subsisting among the peoples of various castes, tribes and communities, the report said.

It is understood that the violation of the act authorizes a sentence of up to five years in prison and a 100,000 Nepali rupee (US$900) fine.

Nepal has recorded  98 violations of freedom of expression in 2018, compared with 66 in 2017, including threats and attacks by interest groups, and arbitrary arrests, the report sais citing Freedom Forum, a Nepali rights group.

The censorship on the freedom of expression in Nepal saw the government propose a new law imposing sweeping restrictions on what government employees can post online, making virtually any criticism of government policies unlawful earlier this year in January.

Further, the Oli government has placed before parliament an Information Technology bill, which would impose penalties of up to five years in prison for “improper” posts on social networking sites if they are deemed to discredit individuals or to harm national security.

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