IFJ urges govt to withdraw IT Bill

Kathmandu, January 7

The International Federation of Journalists said today the new Information Technology Bill, which is under deliberation in the Parliament, threatened to undermine media freedom.

The IFJ and its affiliates, Federation of Nepali Journalists and Nepal Press Union, have strongly condemned the proposed new law and urged the Parliament to amend it to ensure the citizens’ constitutional right to freedom of expression.

“This bill is another example of governments trying to curb freedom of expression and silence critical voice in the name of online security. We call on the Government of Nepal to step back and start wider consultation with stakeholders to develop new communications bill that respects and fully guarantees media freedom and freedom of expression,” IFJ General Secretary, Anthony Bellanger said in a press release issued yesterday.

The controversial bill passed by the Development and Technology Committee of the House of Representatives on December threatens freedom of speech.

Among the concerns expressed by organisations of Nepali journalists are that it includes provisions to impose fine of up to Rs 1.5 million or jail terms up to five years for posting content on social media that in the eyes of the government may pose threat to the ‘country’s sovereignty, security, unity or harmony’.

The bill also includes mandatory provisions for social media companies to be registered in Nepal to open their offices in the country. If not, their services will be banned.

The bill replaces the existing Electronic Transactions Act, which had been widely misused to arrest and harass citizens over their posts on social media.

According to cybercrime cell at Nepal Police, 106 cases were filed in Kathmandu valley in the past three years for ‘illegal’ posts on social media.

The FNJ claims the bill is in contravention to citizens’ rights to freedom of expression enshrined in the constitution.

FNJ said, “We would like to remind the government about its earlier agreement to hold consultations with FNJ and other stakeholders while it introduces any bill related to media and freedom of expression.

Therefore, we urge the government to take the IT Bill forward only after wider consultation with stakeholders and adhering to the spirit of freedom of expression.”

NPU has denounced the government’s proposed 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 for NPU. NPU calls on the government to correct contradictory provisions in the bill through wider consultation with stakeholders,” NPU said.