Restrictive provisions in IT bill not against media: Minister Baskota

Kathmandu, June 21

Minister of Communications and Information Technology Gokul Prasad Baskota today told the Development and Technology Committee of the House of Representatives that restrictive provisions in Information Technology Bill were aimed at deterring those persons who were posting defamatory comments on social networking sites and that the bill did not pose a threat to mainstream media.

Baskota said the bill’s contents did not violate people’s civil rights. Minister showed a screenshot of a Facebook post where the user wrote defamatory comments about President Bidhya Devi Bhandari and Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. The Minister read out the post to the panel members to justify the provisions of Information Technology Bill that has come under attack from civil society and opposition parties, including the Nepali Congress. “Is this our civilization and freedom?” he questioned after reading aloud the comments.

The Minister also told the lawmakers that he was ready to amend the provisions of the bill but the lawmakers needed to clearly state which provisions were restrictive.

Baskota said that the IT Bill was not linked with media but would rather help maintain discipline in society. He said freedom did not mean a society without some reasonable restrictions. “People are free to make criticisms but they cannot undermine, harass or defame others,” he said. He said in some cases individuals could be a plaintiff instead of the current provision in the bill which stipulates that the government will be the plaintiff in an offence under the Information Technology law.

“In some cases, imposition of punishment may not be appropriate. Punishment will be decided based on the seriousness of an offence. “If anyone issues a threat of kidnapping, that cannot be pardoned even if the perpetrator issues the threat for the first time,” he added.  Although the line minister urged lawmakers of the panel to make some genuine changes in the bill, the ruling party’s lawmakers did not show their willingness to do that. They were in favour of endorsing the report prepared by the sub-committee of the Development and Technology Committee.

One of the restrictive provisions of the bill stipulates that if a person torments or undermines or discourage or reprimands somebody on the facebook, that person may face a jail term up to five years or 1.5 million fine, or both.

Nepali Congress lawmaker Rangmati Shahi told the panel that if the bill was enacted into law, then parents may face jail term if their children wrongly pressed any key on their smartphones. She said the bill should be amended to pardon accidental posts by the users of social networking sites. Another NC member Ram Bahadur Bista said the bill’s proposal to impose five years jail term and Rs 1.5 million fine had created fear in the minds of the public. Lawmakers from the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP) urged the panel chief to move the bill ahead arguing that there was no need for further discussion on it. Among those lawmakers who said there was no need for further debate on the bill in the committee were Kedar Sigdel, Tek Bahadur Basnet, Indu Kumari Sharma and Lilanath Shrestha.

NCP lawmaker Indu Kumari Sharma said that the media was wrongly interpreting the issue of freedom. NC lawmakers told panel Chair Kalyani Khadka that if she wanted to forward the bill to the HoR, she should do so by attaching the notes of dissents of NC lawmakers.

NC lawmaker Bahadur Singh Lama had written a note of dissent when the bill was finalised by a sub-committee formed under lawmaker Bina Shrestha. Lama had said that the bill’s provision controlled the social networking sites and thus the bill will curtail freedom of expression.

The panel is preparing to pass the bill in its next meeting.

If the Development and Technology Committee did not amend the report submitted by its sub-committee, then the sub-committee’s decision to impose Rs 50,000 fine or six months of jail term for cyber bullying will be the part of the bill, which will most likely be passed by the Parliament.

The sub-committee which finalised the bill recently, proposed to reduce jail term and fine drastically for cyber bullying. The original draft of the bill had proposed to impose a fine of Rs 1 million or jail term of five years for cyber bullying.

The sub-committee has also proposed to impose a fine Rs 1.5 million or five years’ jail term for misusing electronic system.

The sub-committee has also proposed to impose a fine of Rs one billion or one-year jail term or both, for illegally operating data centres or providing cloud services.