Clear provision to ensure freedom of expression on internet sought

Published On: August 3, 2016 12:30 AM NPT By: Shraddha Amatya

KATHMANDU, Aug 3: Common citizens are harassed and charged with public offence cases due to lack of clear and comprehensive policy and laws, according to a new research report.

The constitution ensures freedom of expression (FoE) as fundamental rights. Some laws and directives, however, are not favorable to freedom of expression, according to the report titled 'Freedom of Expression on Internet in Nepal' released by Freedom Forum.

"Knowingly or unknowingly, the internet-based practice of freedom of expression is receiving challenges although Nepal has adopted the governance system of federal democratic republic,” said Krishna Sapkota, a member of the study team.

“Now is the time to augment space for internet freedom to avert challenges on its use and enable citizenry to express their views on public affairs," he said.

The report has stated that the chances of misinterpretation of some words and phrases always remain high and they need clear explanation. The report has pointed to some phrases like 'reasonable restriction' which might get misinterpreted. Phrases and words  such as 'harmonious relations between the Federal Units'; 'public morality'; 'harmonious relations between various castes, tribes, religions and communities', 'territorial integrity' mentioned in Article 17 (4) need clear definition, states the report.

The report stresses that relations found harmonious to one or two communities may not be found harmonious by others. Thus, this type of words needs clear operational definition.

Criminalization of the use of internet as tools of freedom of expression is also the biggest threat to democracy, the report states. As many as 16 people were arrested under cyber crime for using social sites, two for email threats and illegal data access and one for online copyright issue, the report states. In some cases, the government has failed to produce substantive proof.

The internet is becoming popular in the country of late. The internet penetration has reached out to nearly 50 percent of the total population.

The social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and the news portals are luring significant number of youths from diverse sectors.

“At a time when the internet is gradually becoming a credible and convenient medium to exercise freedom of expression, how enabling and accommodative is the national environment for the pressing issue of internet-based free expression in Nepal?” Sapkota questioned.

The report has recommended widening the watchdog role of FoE rights groups/defenders to effectively monitor internet-based free expression issues; spreading internet literacy; de-criminalizing the laws governing FoE on internet and clearly defining the ambiguous terms in the constitution possibly affecting free expression exercise through constitutional court interpretation or statute amendment among others.

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