KATHMANDU, July 1: The government’s crackdown on demonstrators at Maitighar Mandala, a roundabout popular for demonstrations given its proximity to Singha Durbar, the government seat, after it was declared a ‘no protest zone’, has sparked fresh criticisms of the KP Oli-led government for ‘curtailing civil liberties’.
Rights activists have termed the government’s move to arrest demonstrators for organizing peaceful protest an assault on democracy and the rights of ordinary public to stage peaceful demonstration.
Charan Parsai, a human rights activist, said that the government is trying to squeeze the democratic space of citizens by asking them to hold public gatherings or demonstrations only at designated places. “When the constitution has guaranteed the people’s right to organize peaceful assemblies as one of the fundamental rights, the government cannot dictate public functions, demonstrations or any kind of protests to take place only at certain places. This is simply an undemocratic move,” Prasai said.
Human rights activists have also termed the latest government move an exercise toward imposing a ‘controlled democracy’. “In the past, Prime Minister Oli himself staged protests at Maitighar Mandala, hoisting the national flag and delivering speeches on democratic values when he was not in power. Now, after becoming prime minister, the same person has imposed a ban on any public gathering or demonstration at the same place. This is the height of hypocrisy,” he said
As per the instructions from the Ministry of Home Affairs, the District Administrative Office, Kathmandu imposed a ban on organizing demonstrations or gatherings at Maitighar Mandala from April 29.
Similarly, the government also maintained that public functions, demonstrations or any kind of protests will be allowed at no place other than the designated seven places namely Tundikhel Khula Manch, Tinkune ground near Koteshwar, Bhuikhel Chaur at Bhagawanpau, sports ground at Pepsicola, Sano Gaucharan football ground, the open space in front of Social Welfare Council, Lainchaur and Sifal Chaur of Gaushala. The district authority had warned of action against the violation of the ban.
Human rights activists as well as political cadres have taken to the streets demanding that the government immediately withdraw its decision to declare Maitighar Mandala as a ‘no protest zone.’ On Saturday, police had arrested nine members of Bibeksheel Sajha Party including its coordinator Ujjwal Thapa from Maitighar Mandala for organizing demonstrations.
Although the government has designated various places for public protests, most of the designated places are either already encroached by the government or are playgrounds for locals. Swagat Nepal, an advocate, warned that the move to curtail individuals’ right to organize peaceful protests may lead to violent protests if the government continued to behave in an arbitrary fashion.
“By designating places where it is impossible to stage protests, the government is simply trying to ban all kinds of dissent. It is simply an assault on the people’s right to protests,” he added.