‘Govt invoking reasonable restriction provision to curtail press freedom’

Deteriorating press freedom in Nepal has drawn the attention of international press bodies

Kathmandu, June 24

Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission Anup Raj Sharma said that journalists should not face criminal case for doing their jobs.

Interacting with civil society members and editors at a programme organised by NHRC here today, Sharma said the government was wrongly invoking ‘reasonable restriction’ provisions to propose jail term for journalists in some of the new bills, including the Media Council Bill. “These bills violate freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution,” he said.

Civil society members and media professionals have criticised provisions of Nepal Media Council Bill, Information Technology Bill and Advertisement Bill, saying those provisions will curtail freedom of expression.

Sharma said the Supreme Court had already set a precedent in a case that the Attorney General could not override the recommendation of the NHRC and yet the government brought the NHRC Act (Amendment) Bill proposing to give discretionary powers to the AG on whether or not cases should be filed in the court as per the recommendations of the NHRC.

Sharma said the SC had given its reason for denying the AG discretionary powers saying the AG, being a political appointee could easily succumb to the prime minister’s pressure and not act upon the NHRC recommendations.  He said the government’s argument that the AG was the final authority to take a call on whether a criminal case had to be filed in the court or not was wrong as the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority and the Judicial Council themselves filed cases in the court.

The law says that the AG can decide whether or not a case has to be filed in the court unless otherwise provisioned in the law and that means the AG did not have power to claim jurisdiction over all cases, Sharma argued.

Sharma said there was a risk of restrictive provisions getting parliamentary legitimacy as the government had overwhelming majority in the House.

If other institutions cannot check the executive’s excesses, then bills that propose to curtail people’s power may get endorsed by the House, he argued.

Acting President of Federation of Nepali Journalists Bipul Pokhrel said the FNJ was committed to protecting press freedom as provisioned in the constitution. “The Nepali press cannot settle for less freedom,” he said, adding that the FNJ would continue to agitate against the restrictive provisions of new bills.

Pokhrel said that if these bills were passed, people could be jailed for accidentally pressing a wrong key on their smartphones.

He said the government was not in favour of finding negotiated settlements of issues.

Senior journalist Yubaraj Ghimire said that journalists were facing the sword of Damocles as the government was wrongly invoking ‘reasonable restriction’ provisions. He said the NHRC and FNJ should have principled commitment to defend each other’s causes as their struggle was important to protect and promote human rights.

Another senior journalist Harihar Birahi said deteriorating press freedom in Nepal had drawn the attention of the international press bodies and soon those bodies could visit Nepal to assess the situation here. He said there was a risk of the government becoming tyrannical.

Executive Director of Freedom Forum Taranath Dahal said the government had boasted in international fora about its record on human rights, women rights and inclusion, but the recent bills had exposed the government’s ill intentions. He said the government was wrongly interpreting ‘reasonable restrictions’ to propose restrictive provisions in new laws.