Physical attacks on journalists, rights activists continue to undermine civic space

KATHMANDU, JANUARY 21

CIVICUS, the World Alliance for Citizen Participation, has called on UN member states to urge the Government of Nepal to double its efforts to protect civic freedom as its human rights record is examined by the UN Human Rights Council as part of the 37th session of the Universal Periodic Review.

At the county’s second UPR five years ago, UN member states had made three recommendations directly related to civic space. Nepal subsequently committed to taking concrete measures to create a safe and enabling environment in which journalists, media workers, human rights defenders and civil society could operate freely.

The government also agreed to ensure freedom of assembly, the right to freedom of expression to decriminalise defamation, and to investigate all cases of threats and attacks against journalists and human rights defenders.

In a recent joint report to this UPR cycle, CIVICUS and Freedom Forum assessed the implementation of these recommendations and compliance with international human rights law and standards over the last five years.

“Despite commitments made, repressive laws, including amendments made to Nepal’s criminal code, have been used to limit the work of independent civil society organisations and suppress freedom of expression.

The government has continued to introduce legislation that can restrict the work of CSOs unwarrantedly and that risks undermining freedom of association,” read a press released issued by CIVICUS today.

“We are seriously concerned about the lack of progress regarding implementation of the last cycle’s recommendations.

This highlights the importance of using the UPR to reiterate to Nepal that its continued shortcomings in policy and practice relating to civic rights are unacceptable,” said David Kode, advocacy lead at CIVI- CUS.

Ongoing attacks against journalists continue to undermine civic space in the country. Since 2015, there have been a number of physical attacks on human rights defenders and journalists, while others have been subjected to judicial harassment. In particular, the Electronic Transactions Act has often been misused to prosecute online journalists as well as government critics.

There are also concerns about the Media Council and Public Broadcasting Bill which could affect press freedom.

“The UPR process is an opportunity to build on human rights achievements as well as to hold governments accountable. A mechanism to protect journalists is welcome and necessary, but is only a first step – authorities must commit to fully investigate all forms of attacks against media workers and to repeal or amend all restrictive laws which undermine freedom of expression,” suggested Kode.

Peaceful protests continue to be met with excessive force and arbitrary arrests. Authorities have limited public space to prevent assemblies and gatherings to express dissent against government policies.

In the joint report, CIVICUS and Freedom Forum urged the states to make recommendations, which if implemented, would guarantee the freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, freedom to operate from unwarranted state interference, the right to communicate and cooperate, the right to seek and secure funding and the state’s duty to protect the rights of citizens.

Key recommendations included removal of all undue restrictions on the ability of CSOs to receive international and domestic funding, undertaking a full consultation with all the stakeholders concerned on the proposed law regulating social organisations and the proposed National Integrity Policy, and guarantee that when enacted, undue restrictions on the freedom of association are removed.

The examination of Nepal will take place during the 37th Session of the UPR soon. The UPR is a process, in operation since 2008, which examines the human rights records of all 193 UN member states every four-and-a-half years.