The New proposed laws and regulations with regards to social media use in Nepal are intended to stifle dissent and silence critical voices, say global and regional human rights groups.
International civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) suggest that they are very seriously worried that new laws, which has been tabled in parliament by the Nepal government, is intended to generate a chilling impact on freedom of expression in the country.
A new legislation becoming announced by the government offers the authorities sweeping powers to block up social media sites on the internet, and then eliminate or criminalise defamatory posts, states a press release issued by CIVICUS and AHRC today.
The government also has tabled laws that prevent civil servants from sharing their views in the media inclusive of social media sites.
On February 20, 2019, Nepal’s government tabled the Information Technology Bill in the parliament, which would probably enforce harsh sanctions for “improper” social media posts. Under the proposed legislation, the government could have the power to block out social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, unless that the owners registered their platforms in Nepal.
The government can also give orders to social media site operators to eliminate posts. Failure to do so can easily lead to a three-year jail term and a fine of NPR 30,000. Those accountable for social networking website posts deemed defamatory or against national sovereignty could be punished with up to five years of jail term and a fine of NPR 1.5 million.
“We are exceedingly worried that this bill is overly broad and restrictive, and if passed, could be utilized to block or criminalise reporting on government misbehavior and the expression of critical thoughts and opinions by civil society and citizens,” stated Josef Benedict, CIVICUS Civic Space Researcher.
CIVICUS and AHRC are also worried about a new bill, tabled on February 13, 2019, that prevents civil servants from sharing their views via social media as well as their micro-blogging sites, even though their retirement from government service.
The legislation also does not allow speeches and writing which are considered to be “contrary to the policies of the Government of Nepal or to undermine mutual relationship between the Government of Nepal and the people or the relationship with any foreign country”.
Freedom of expression in Nepal continues to deal with serious threats. Journalists have been caught and charged under the Electronic Transaction Act 2008 for their reports and dozens have been attacked or threatened. Police have also used extreme and lethal force at demonstrations, with impunity, and laws have been proposed to curtail the works of NGOs.
The CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to the civil society in countries throughout the world, rates civic space – the space for civil society – in Nepal as obstructed.