KATHMANDU, Jan 8: Concluding that some provisions in the Information Technology Bill currently under discussion in parliament threaten to undermine media freedom, various media rights advocacy groups have expressed their serious concern.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliates, the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) and Nepal Press Union (NPU), have strongly condemned the proposed new law and urged parliament to alter it in order to guarantee the constitutional right of citizens to freedom of expression.
The controversial bill, which cleared the Development and Technology Committee of the House of Representatives (HoR) on December 29, includes provisions to impose fines of up to Rs 1.5 million or jail terms of up to five years for posting content on social media that the government thinks may pose a threat to the “country’s sovereignty, security, unity or harmony”. The bill also includes a mandatory provision for social media companies to be registered in Nepal if they wish to open offices in this country. If they do not register here, the use of their services will be banned.
The bill will replace the existing Electronic Transaction Act (ETA), which was widely misused to arrest and harass citizens over their social media posts. According to the cybercrime cell of the Nepal Police, 106 cases were filed in Kathmandu Valley in the last three years for “illegal” posts on social media. The proposed bill provides for far tougher punishment for committing the same offense on the internet than ‘in person’, according to a press statement issued by IFJ on Monday.
FNJ has claimed that the bill is in contravention of citizens’ right to freedom of expression as enshrined in Nepal’s constitution.
“We would like to remind the Government of Nepal about its earlier agreement to hold consultations with FNJ and other stakeholders while introducing any bill related to media and freedom of expression. We urge the government to take the IT bill forward only after wider consultation with stakeholders, and to adhere to the spirit of freedom of expression,” it said.
Nepal Press Union (NPU) has also denounced the government’s proposed new law as undemocratic. “The bill gives plenty of space for the authorities to curb freedom of expression and media freedom. Therefore, it is not acceptable to the NPU. NPU calls on the Government of Nepal to correct the bill’s provisions through wide consultation with stakeholders,” it said.
IFJ General Secretary Anthony Bellanger said the new IT bill is another example of government trying to curb freedom of expression and silence critical voices in the name of online security. “We call on the government to step back and start a wider consultation with stakeholders and unions to develop a new communications bill that respects and fully guarantees media freedom and freedom of expression,” he said in a statement.