Kathmandu, March 1
Senior Advocate Dinesh Tripathi and Advocate Sunil Ranjan Singh said three bills that the government recently registered in the Parliament — Peace and Security Bill, Information Technology Bill and Advertisement Regulation Bill — could curtail people’s democratic rights such as freedom of expression and right to dissent.
Tripathi said the peace and security bill proposed to give chief district officers the power to prevent people from gathering for peaceful purpose if CDOs deemed that such a gathering could pose law and order problems.
“Pre-censorship on assembly is wrong in democracy. Pre-censorship is not allowed on the press and the same way it should not be on matters of peaceful assembly,” Tripathi said.
He said the IT Bill proposed to put people in jail for posting objectionable contents. “The bill proposes jail term for using hateful message and undermining somebody’s prestige. These terms are vague and if they are not changed then any public post holder can punish anybody for expressing their dissent on social media,” Tripathi added.
He said social networking sites were working as alternative media these days and if people were restricted from expressing their dissent then that would lead to self-censorship, harming the cause of democracy. Advocate Singh said the government seemed to have brought the three bills with the motive of muzzling dissent. “Some ruling party leaders had gone to jail for championing people’s freedom and today they have forgotten that. They think muzzling dissent can prolong their rule,” Singh said.
Tripathi and Singh argued that democracy was not only about guaranteeing freedom of expression but also about tolerating dissent. Tripathi said that criminalisation of defamation was against the jurisprudence. Tripathi and Singh said the Advertisement Regulation Bill’s proposal to impose jail sentence up to three years for false advertisement was too harsh.
“Every business house wants to exaggerate a little bit about the quality of their products. If a false advert causes death of a consumer, then jailing the advertiser will be justified but in other cases, there should be no jail sentence,” Tripathi added.
Tripathi said that the bill’s provision should be changed so that parties who could be affected by false advertisement could seek compensation. “Exaggeration in advertisement should not be a criminal case,” he added.
Advocate Singh also said that imposing jail sentence for violation of intellectual property might be justified as companies took long time to build their brands but imposing jail sentence in minor cases was wrong.
A version of this article appears in print on March 02, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.