Kathmandu, February 22
Main opposition Nepali Congress lawmakers today criticised the Information Technology Bill registered by the government in the Parliament.
During a thematic discussion on the bill in the House of Representatives, NC lawmakers said the bill curtailed the fundamental right of the people to freedom of expression and opinion and was hence against the spirit of the constitution.
However, Minister of Communications and Information Technology Gokul Baskota and ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmakers defended the bill, saying the bill was brought with the aim of controlling misuse of social media
NC lawmaker Gagan Thapa said introduction of the bill in the Parliament demonstrated Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s intent. “If common people should be fined for insulting someone, should not the prime minister also be penalised for insulting people,” he said.
The bill makes it mandatory for social networking sites to register with the Department of Information. As per the bill, all social networking sites should be registered with the DoI. Similarly, the bill also states that the government can halt operation of social networking sites that are being operated without registration.
Thapa asked what the government would do if social networking sites like facebook and twitter did not register themselves in Nepal.
NC Whip Puspa Bhusal and lawmaker Dila Sangraula claimed that the bill attempted to curtail the rights of people and press freedom. “The bill should not curtail fundamental rights of the people granted by the constitution,” Bhusal said.
The bill also provisions a fine of up to Rs 1.5 million or five years imprisonment, or both, for posting content that may pose a threat to the country’s sovereignty, national security, national unity and harmony depending on the nature of the offence.
Nepal Communist Party (NCP) lawmakers Yogesh Bhattrai, Navaraj Silwal, Mahesh Basnet, Surya Pathak, Khaga Raj Adhikari said the government was right in bringing the bill as it would regulate the use of social media. “The bill will help control cybercrime,” Silwal said.
Bhattarai said media outlets were being run to earn profit and it was necessary to regulate them. He also claimed that facebook had so far earned Rs 13 billion from Nepal. “If social networking sites register in Nepal, they will pay taxes and increase the government’s revenue,” he said.
Responding to lawmakers’ queries, Minister Baskota said the bill was not against the right to information and speech guaranteed by the constitution. “Social networking sites like facebook and twitter should be registered in Nepal,” Minister Baskota said, adding, social networking sites are required to be registered in India, Germany and USA also, he argued.
A version of this article appears in print on February 23, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.