Human Rights Watch calls on Nepal to amend laws undermining free expression

International rights watchdog Human Rights Watch has called on the Nepali government to revise several draft laws that ‘threaten to undermine the right to freedom of expression.’

In a letter to Prime Minister KP Oli, the New York-based organisation, has called for an amendment to the Penal Code to repeal provisions that criminalise speech on vague grounds. HRW has also taken exception to three bills ( the Media Council Bill, Information Technology Bill, and the Mass Communications Bill) currently under discussion in Parliament as it contains numerous ‘loosely defined’ and ‘draconian measures’.

“Provisions controlling online and social media activity are especially sweeping. Many of the new offenses carry fines and lengthy prison sentences,” said HRW in a statement on Wednesday.

“Nepal has a proud tradition of public activism, but if these laws are passed in their current form, they will undermine the freedoms that Nepalis fought so hard to achieve,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “After years of conflict and political instability, the laws being passed under Nepal’s new democratic constitution should uphold fundamental freedoms, not set out to curb them.”

The organisation noted that since the Oli government came to power in February 2018, at least six journalists have been detained. Similarly, several internet users have been arrested for their activities on “social networks.”

HRW has also reminded the Prime Minister of Nepal’s obligations under international human rights law, especially the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which require any limitations on the right to freedom of expression to be narrowly defined in order to protect the rights of others, maintain public order, or address genuine national security threats. The provisions come at a time when the United Nations experts have recommended abolishing all criminal defamation laws, it says.

“The Media Council Bill and the Mass Communications Bill propose creating government-controlled media regulators, which could compel media organizations and individual journalists to comply with government directives and as yet unwritten codes of conduct, or face penalties. This is a serious threat to press freedom,” Human Rights Watch said.

The Information Technology Bill, meanwhile, creates a web of loosely defined new offenses that could be interpreted to include almost any online activity, said HRW, which as submitted a detailed analysis of problematic and abusive provisions in the draft legislation and in the new Penal Code in an annex to the letter to the prime minister.

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental human right and the foundation of a democratic society,” Ganguly said. “The Nepali government should protect free speech and ensure that any legal restrictions are proportionate, narrowly defined, and consistent with Nepal’s obligations under international law.”♥

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