Shrinking democratic space raises AI’s concern

Nepal government resorted to methods to curtail the freedom of expression in 2019

Kathmandu, January 30

Amnesty International today expressed concern about shrinking democratic space in Nepal, saying the government proposed laws that restricted the right to freedom of expression and imposed greater restriction on the civil society.

Releasing its annual report on ‘Events in Asia Pacific Region’ AI said last year, Nepal government increasingly resorted to measures to restrict freedom of expression.

Journalists were arrested in Nepal simply for doing their jobs, singers were imprisoned solely for contents of their songs, and civil society came under greater pressure, AI quoted Biraj Patnaik, South Asia director at Amnesty International as saying.

“The government has also failed to deliver justice and reparation for thousands of victims of crimes and serious human rights violations committed during the decade-long armed conflict,” read the report.

Migrant workers were not protected from abusive recruitment practices. Many people, who lost their homes during the 2015-earthquake were no closer to finding permanent shelter, according to the report.

AI said laws including Electronic Transactions Act-2006, were used to arbitrarily arrest journalists in Nepal. By the end of the year, three new bills – the Media Council Bill, Mass Communication Bill, and Information Technology Bill – were proposed that would further restrict the right to freedom of expression, as stated by the report.

The government also proposed amendments to legislation that would undermine the independence of the National Human Rights Commission.

The Cabinet also proposed a new law that would restrict the activities of civil society organisations and subject them to more stringent monitoring.

“The new bills proposing restrictions on freedom of expression will damage Nepal’s regional reputation and violate its international obligations.

These bills must be withdrawn or amended immediately to ensure that no one in Nepal is punished for what they peacefully say or write,” the reported quoted Patnaik as saying.

The rights organisation said in 2019 there was little progress on justice and reparation for thousands of victims of various crimes and other serious violations of human rights committed during the decade-long armed conflict, 13 years after the state committed to do so as part of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

By the end of the year, the government had still not amended the Commission on Investigation of the Disappeared Persons, Truth and Reconciliation Act-2014, as ordered by the Supreme Court in 2014 and 2015, AI said.

“The wounds of Nepal’s decade-long conflict can only heal when justice is delivered to the tens of thousands of victims.

In 2020, the government must build upon the limited but important progress made, empower the two commissions overseeing the transitional justice process, and bring existing legislation into line with the Supreme Court’s orders,” read the report.

AI said four years ago, a policy was announced to ensure that migrant workers would not be charged for their work visas or their air tickets to countries of prospective employment, but the policy was yet to be enforced and recruitment agencies in Nepal continued to charge exorbitant fees from the migrant workers.

“The government happily relies on remittances sent by hundreds of thousands of migrant workers to keep the economy of the country going, but it does very little to ensure they are protected from abuse and exploitation by recruitment agencies,” read the report.

In 2020, the authorities should take decisive steps to implement existing laws to protect migrant workers, read the report.