Kathmandu: Nepal’s Communist government Friday introduced a new criminal code that makes publishing confidential information, recording audio or taking pictures without permission a jailable offence, triggering concerns among activists and journalists that it could curb press freedom.
Lawyers and rights activists have warned that the Communist-led two third majority government, which has shown an “increasing intolerance for dissent”, could use the new laws to silence those criticising the government.
The government’s new Criminal Code and Criminal Procedures Code, expected to reform the country’s legal system by replacing ages-old ‘Muluki Ain’, came into effect today, amid fears that the new privacy provisions outlined in the codes would hamper free press in the country.
A number of provisions in the Criminal Code say violation of any individual’s right to privacy would result in up to three years imprisonment and fines in thousands of rupees.
The new law also makes listening to or recording a conversation between two or more people, or photographing any individual, without consent a criminal offence.
Anyone found violating these rules faces one year in prison and a fine of Rs 10,000 or both.
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 total violation of the constitution and aimed at controlling the free press which is totally unacceptable, said Badri Sigdel, president of Nepal Press Union, 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, said. Nepalese journalists had faced intimidation, arrest and pre-censorship during the direct rule of then King Gyanendra, who took executive powers in 2005.
The people’s movement of 2006 overthrew the autocratic monarchy and established federal democratic republic Nepal. “The new press laws try to snatch the achievements of the people’s movement,” warned president of NPU Sigdel.
“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.