Although the new Constitution promulgated in 2015 guarantees press freedom and right to information, the new code introduced by the government has raised suspicion in the minds of journalists and rights activists.
The Nepal government has introduced new laws that make the publication of “ill-intended” cartoons and “confidential information” a criminal offence, punishable with imprisonment.
The new criminal and civil code that came into operation from Friday, replacing the 165-year-old ‘Muluki Ain’, also has similar provisions directed against other professionals, mainly medical practitioners. “A death caused by negligence during treatment shall warrant five-year imprisonment,” it says.
The media, medical practitioners and rights groups are protesting that this will give sweeping powers to the police to take on any professional group. The new statutes make reporting about “confidential” conversations between two people without authorisation a criminal offence.
A number of provisions in the criminal code also say the violation of any individual’s right to privacy would result in up to three years’ imprisonment and fines in thousands of rupees. Publishing content that damages a person’s reputation directly or through satire is also subject to punishment, according to the new law.
“These general laws can be misused to silence journalists and discourage investigative reporting,” said senior advocate Dinesh Tripathi. The new laws have put press freedom at stake, he warned. This is in total violation of the Constitution and aimed at controlling the free press which is totally unacceptable, said Badri Sigdel, president of Nepal Press Union (NPU), a pro-democracy working journalists’ organisation. This is an indication that the Communist government is gradually imposing authoritarian rule in the country by undermining people’s right to information and press freedom, the NPU said.
“The government has tightened screw on the journalists by introducing the code and there is every possibility of misuse of the law, which could curtail press freedom,” said Hari Thapa, editor of Annapurna Post national daily.
The new law is “regressive” which is counterproductive for a free press, he added.
Although the new Constitution promulgated in 2015 guarantees press freedom and right to information, the new code introduced by the government has raised suspicion in the minds of journalists and rights activists. Doctors, who had earlier decided to go on indefinite strike from Friday, decided to postpone it by two weeks following an assurance from the government that Prime Minister K P Oli was willing to review the provisions.
Oli, who had been taking a rigid stance on the new statute earlier, said on Friday that he was willing to reform it if the need arose. “But, the country needs to be managed in a orderly manner and made more disciplined.”