Press freedom at risk with new Criminal Code restrictions

Expression

New criminal code threatens press freedom

On 17th August 2018, Nepal’s new Criminal Code came into effect. The new law along with the new Civil Code replaces around 15 laws including 55-year-old civil and criminal laws. Human rights and media organisation have raised serious concerns about the new law and its impact on press freedom in Nepal.

Nepalese journalists could face up to three years in prison and Rs 10,000 to Rs. 30,000 (USD 100 to 300) in fines if they publish information deemed “confidential” under the new criminal code. According to human rights groups, several of its articles relating to the protection of privacy pose a serious threat to journalistic practices. Further, the new law limits the freedom to provide news and information in the public interest.

Particular provisions of concern include:

  • Section 293 criminalises recording and listening to conversations between two or more people without consent of the persons involved;
  • Section 294 prohibits disclosing private information without permission, including private information on public figures;
  • Section 295, prohibits photographing a person outside of a public space without their consent;
  • Section 298 prohibits receiving or sending or publishing unauthorised information through an electronic medium;Section 306 criminalises satire that disrespects an individual.

Govinda Acharya, the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) president, said:

“More than 80 journalists faced criminal cases and harassment due to one provision in the Electronic Transaction Act for their news. The new Act has dozens of such provisions that criminalise written or spoken expression; and journalists face imprisonment up to three years for merely writing news. This is against the international standards and principles of press freedom; as well as the Constitution of Nepal.”

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) expressed serious concerns over the restrictive provisions of the Criminal Code and demanded immediate amendments to ensure they adhere to international standards. They argued that such provisions will be misused to harass journalists and media while obstructing independent and investigative journalism.

Nepal’s 2015 constitution provides for full freedom of the press, while Article 19 prohibits censorship. Journalists are nonetheless often subjected to pressure from various authorities. The CIVICUS Monitor has previously documented cases of journalists being attacked and threatened for undertaking their work.

Nepal is ranked 106th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders 2018 World Press Freedom Index.

Journalists arrested and targeted for their work

On 10th September 2018, Nepal police arrested the editor of a weekly newspaper on alleged cybercrime charges over a published news report. Raju Basnet, the editor-in-chief of Khojtalash weekly, was arrested from his home at Godavari Municipality, Lalitpur, in the Kathmandu Valley.

The office of the Metropolitan Police Range said he was arrested under a court order regarding a news report about pressure being exerted by lawmakers to illegally sell government-owned factory land. He was charged under the Electronic Transaction Act 2008. The article was originally published in another weekly, Drishti, on 4th September 2018. Khojtalash.com republished the story under a different headline on 6th September.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) condemned the arrest saying:

“The arrest of journalists under criminal acts – especially those unrelated to media contents such as the Electronic Transaction Act of Nepal, is unacceptable, and is a clear attempt to intimidate journalists. These abuses by police weaken Nepal’s hard-fought for democracy, and is a critical violation of journalists rights.”

In July and August 2018, IFJ reported that a number of journalists were attacked and threatened:

  • On 18th July 2018, LB Devkota of Kantipur daily and Prakash Upadhyay of AP1 TV sustained minor injuries after an attack by the police while they were covering demonstrations in Jumla, Karnali. Police also tried to snatch away a camera from the journalists and harassed them;
  • On 21st July 2018, five journalists were attacked by police officers while they were covering a demonstration near the Parliament in Kathmandu. Ajaya Babu Shiwakoti, the editor of hamrakura.com and general secretary of the Nepal Press Union (NPU), Maheshwor Gautam of Rajdhani daily, Nivesh Kumar of News24 TV, Skanda Gautam and Prabin Maharjan of The Himalayan Times daily were victims of the attack; 
  • On 22rd July 2018, journalist Bidur Katuwal, was threatened by Baldev Chaudhuary, the mayor of Triyuga Municipality, Devi Kumar Chaudhary, the vice-mayor, and Provincial Assembly member Sunita Chaudhary over a news report; 
  • On 5th August 2018, Butwal Today daily and Buddha TV’s Radheshyam Bishwokarma, Annapurna Post daily’s local journalist Salman Khan and Khabar weekly’s editor Deepak Ghimire were attacked by students who were organising a protest over the death of a fellow student at the Universal College of Medical Sciences. The protesters also damaged journalists’ equipment.

Association

Consultations continue on restrictive NGO policy 

As previously documented by the CIVICUS Monitor, the Nepali government has proposed a “National Integrity Policy” under the Ministry of Home Affairs that could curtail the work of international and national non-governmental organisations (NGOs) operating in the country. The policy was first revealed in April 2018.

On 12th October 2018, it was reported that the authorities were still in consultations on the law after feedback from NGOs and donors. According to the report, four independent experts, appointed by the UN Human Rights Council, had expressed their concerns on the limitations of the proposed draft. Among concerns raised include definitions and reporting requirements, restriction of scope of activities and access to funding.

Activist dies in custody

On 1st September 2018, activist Ram Manohar Yadav from the separatist Free Madhes Campaign died in police custody, a week after waiving black flags at Deputy Prime Minister and Health Minister Upendra Yadav. Yadav was detained on 23rd August 2018, along with three others. After detaining them, the Bardiya District Police filed treason charges against all four in the Bardiya District Court.

On the morning of 30th August 2018, Yadav reportedly collapsed inside his cell. Police then admitted him to the Bardiya District Hospital in Gulariya, less than 200 metres away from the police station. He was then taken to Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital in Kathmandu where he was pronounced dead. The National Human Rights Commission is currently investigating the case.

Peaceful Assembly

Police use lethal force at protests killing one person and injuring dozens

On 24th August 2018, police opened fire on protesters in the city of Mahendranagar in West Nepal, demanding action over the rape and murder of a 13-year-old girl. A 17-year-old boy, Sani Khuna was killed and dozens were injured.

In response to the police violence, Amnesty International Nepal said the incident was “disturbing” and urged the authorities and law-enforcement officials in Nepal “to always adhere to the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms which requires officials to apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms”. The organisation also urged the authorities to carry out independent and impartial probe into the event leading up to the violence, and to provide prompt and effective redress and justice to the victims and their families.

Protests started after schoolgirl Nirmala Panta from Kanchanpur, in far western Nepal, went missing on 26th July 2018 and her body was found the following day in a sugar-cane field. Anger boiled over after police arrested a man who reportedly has a mental illness and whom protesters say is a scapegoat allowing officers to shield the real culprit. The victim's family have also accused police of failing to take action over her death. Protests in Kathmandu, brought tens of thousands onto the streets, including schoolchildren, demanding justice with the hashtag #justicefornirmala

Protests related to the rape and murder case also took place a day earlier, on 23rd August 2018 in Kanchanpur district. Protesters reportedly burned tires in the main roads of the town. In response, police allegedly opened fire on protesters with at least four people injured and taken to hospital.