Nepal | November 18, 2019

‘No right to privacy in matters of public interest’

Himalayan News Service

Kathmandu, November 1

Delayed revelation of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s health status citing privacy reasons has sparked debate over whether a high-ranking public office holder enjoys the right to privacy when it is a matter of public interest.

Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli was admitted to Grande International Hospital on Wednesday where he underwent haemodialysis the same day. However, both the PM’s secretariat and the hospital were tight-lipped about his treatment. All they said was the PM had visited the hospital for routine check-up. The PM’s secretariat also came out with vague statements.

It was only yesterday, after much pressure, that the hospital revealed the PM had undergone dialysis. The hospital’s Director Chakra Raj Pandey said in a press conference yesterday that Oli had undergone dialysis to lower the level of creatinine in his blood. He said the PM was absolutely fine after dialysis, but did not give further details of the PM’s health and medical tests, urging mediapersons to ‘respect patient’s privacy’.

However, lawyers said the prime minister was not just a person, but an institution of public importance, and the public had every right to know details of their PM’s health.

Constitution expert Bhimarjun Acharya said suppressing information about the PM’s health was against the law and constitution. “The PM does not enjoy right to privacy in matters of public interest, except in relation to national security issues. The people cannot be deprived of their right to information,” he said. “It is disappointing that the PM and people around him are taking this as a private matter.”

Senior Advocate Satish Krishna Kharel said only commoners enjoyed right to privacy and the constitution did not protect right to privacy of persons holding public posts in matters of public interest, except in matters of national security. “How can they call it a private matter when the PM is being treated with taxpayers’ money and it’s not a national security issue?” asked Kharel.

On the other hand, suppressing information about the PM’s health fuelled rumours and speculations, creating further confusion among people.

“When the state suppresses facts it promotes misinformation. Such tendencies lead to confusion, disorder and ultimately anarchy,” said Freedom Forum Chief Executive Tara Nath Dahal. According to Dahal, the prime minister is a person who commands and drives the country and people follow his orders. When such a person is hospitalised, people have every right to know about his health, that too, in detail.

Dahal said it was important for people to know about the PM’s health also because everybody knew he was a kidney patient who had undergone transplant surgery and he had been visiting foreign countries for treatment. “Therefore, the state cannot shrug off its responsibility of protecting the people’s right to information. It can’t cite the PM’s right to privacy as an individual,” said Dahal. “There’s no point in suppressing information when it is not detrimental to the public or the PM himself.”

Oli had undergone kidney transplant surgery 12 years ago. He has been visiting various hospitals in foreign countries for health check-up ever since. Oli was admitted to Singapore-based National University Hospital twice in August. He had undergone plasmapheresis in NUH after his blood creatinine level rose.

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A version of this article appears in print on November 02, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.


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