House panel endorses disputed IT bill

Published On: December 30, 2019 08:03 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

KATHMANDU, Dec 30: The ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) has forced a controversial Bill on Information Technology through a parliamentary committee amid public outcry for amendment and opposition lawmakers writing a joint note of dissent against various provisions that are against the freedom of expression.

Parliamentary committee on Information Technology endorsed the bill on Sunday through majority votes without revising the contentious provisions after the ruling party lawmakers stood for regulating the social media companies. 

Out of 26 lawmakers in the committee, 12 lawmakers voted to endorse the bill while four lawmakers of NC voted against the bill. The remaining lawmakers either skipped the meeting or left the meeting after signing the attendance register.

“The bill has been endorsed by the committee’s majority without removing the disputed provisions, which are vague and could be misused to stifle the freedom of expression. We will protest against the bill in the full House meeting now,” said NC lawmaker Ram Bahadur Bista. 

The bill has proposed up to five-year jail or Rs one million penalty or both for cyber- bullying-related offense.  Any activities intended at mocking others, engaging in pranks, or discouraging or threatening others will be punishable by up to five years in jail or Rs one million in fine or both, according to Section 83 of the bill.

Similarly, any offence of unauthorized access to information on electronic medium, changing or erasing such information or transmissions of ill-intended programs may land one in jail for three years, according to a revised provision of the bill. The original bill had proposed one year jail for such offence.

Amid public outcry, the parliamentary panel has endorsed the bill making it mandatory for [foreign and domestic] social media companies operating in Nepal to register themselves in Nepal. The bill allows the government to ban unregistered social media platforms whenever it wants and under any pretext. The social medial companies need to register themselves with the IT Department of the government. 

A provision allowing the government to instruct social media companies like Facebook and Twitter to remove social media posts of certain individuals without any court order has been endorsed without any revision from the committee.

Experts have also criticized the bill for including certain provisions that contradict the criminal code. At least 28 lawmakers from both the ruling and opposition parties had demanded amendments to the bill’s 90 different provisions including those related to fines and sentences.

Opposition lawmakers had demanded scrapping of Section 83, 88 and 91 to 94 of the bill, which have restrictive provisions for writing on social media -- jail sentence of up to five years and fine of up to Rs 1.5 million or both -- and provisions related to registration of social media in the country.

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