Kathmandu DAO’s ban on protests comes under fire


Nepali Congress lawmaker and senior advocate Radhe Shyam Adhikari said that Kathmandu District Administration’s decision to impose restriction on protests and rallies in view of the COV- ID-19 pandemic had violated people’s right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution.

He said the home ministry’s circular to all districts to impose restriction on protesters was not justified.

Adhikari added that some rulers around the world were trying to curtail people’s freedom of expression and right to peaceful protest in the name of COVID-19 pandemic and there was fear that the incumbent government was moving ahead with the same mentality of imposing authoritarian policies in the name of controlling the COV- ID-19 pandemic.

“Right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression cannot be curtailed on any pretext. If the government thinks that protests can spike COVID-19 infection, it can tell organisers to adopt safety measures such as using masks and maintaining social distance, but it cannot make blanket decisions restricting people from expressing their dissatisfaction against the government,” he argued.

Adhikari said the government might justify its decision to place some restrictions in some districts where COVID-19 infection rate was high, but the government’s blanket decision imposing restriction in all districts was wrong. He said the government did not have any objection when the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) organised seminars and rallies in various districts but now that opposition parties were organising protests, it was trying to muzzle their voice in the name of controlling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Senior Advocate Dinesh Tripathi said people’s right to peaceful protest and freedom of expression was guaranteed as fundamental rights in the constitution and they could be curtailed only in exceptional cases of threat to national independence and sovereignty and not in the face of any pandemic.

He said Kathmandu DAO’s decision was politically motivated and also violated the Supreme Court’s order issued in response to a writ petition filed by him against the government.

“Ruling party supporters took out rallies in support of PM Oli a few weeks ago and nobody bothered about those rallies. Now that people are protesting against the government, the government is trying to infringe on people’s fundamental rights,” he argued.

Tripathi said the government was merely using COV- ID-19 pandemic threat as pretext to curtail people’s freedom. “The government has lifted almost all kinds of restrictions it had initially imposed to contain the virus.

Buses are packed with passengers and other modes of transport, including air transport, have resumed. There is no social distancing rules being enforced in crowded markets.

Why is the government trying to restrict people who want to protest against the government’s policies? He wondered.

Spokesperson for the Ministry of Home Affairs Chakra Bahadur Budha said the home ministry had issued circular to DAOs in the past which were still valid and the DAOs could take their decision keeping in mind the threat of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are not saying people do not have fundamental right to organise protest rallies, but given the situation of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country, particularly in Kathmandu, some restrictions are justified,” he said and added that the government had lifted restrictions only on essential service sectors.

He said Infectious Disease Prevention Act also has the provision of imposing restriction on peoples’ freedom in the face of a pandemic and the same Act had been invoked by Kathmandu DAO.