Nepal has been under scrutiny for the past few weeks, regarding the new civil and criminal codes that have been established in the country. While these laws pertain to all Nepalese citizens, there are significantly higher restrictions on the public sphere of society. Freedom of the press specifically was affected by the new codes, making it increasingly difficult for journalists to freely report do their jobs. The new restrictions have greatly angered the international community, and have led to questions about the status of the country’s democracy.
The new civil and criminal codes are provisions of the new Nepalese constitution, which was adopted in 2015. They outline the rights and restrictions that are present within the country, and how violations of these codes will be treated. The criminal codes specifically are very restrictive, and are angering national and international press forums alike. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) stated in their official press release, “Nepal’s new Criminal Codes Act 2018 curtails freedom of expression and the press. Some provisions of the Act, especially Sections 293 to 308 relating to privacy and defamation, are restrictive to the press freedom and criminalize expression.” The codes say that Nepalese authorities can hold suspects for over 30 days, while they investigate the alleged crimes.
Some of the codes include: Section 293, which condemns listening or recording to conversations without consent, Section 294, which condemns releasing private information without consent, and Section 306, which condemns the use of satire. The ban on satire specifically is very troubling for the country and international community alike, as satire was historically a popular method of protest for Nepalese citizens during the autocratic rule in the country. Times of India further explained, “The four sections on privacy and defamation decree sentences of up to three years in prison and $260 in fines.” These consequences are extreme, especially when the constitution of Nepal allows for the freedom of speech and freedom of the press. Journalists are now working in fear, unsure of whether they will be prosecuted for reporting the truth. These codes can also be used to intimidate and silence journalists, which would also hinder their ability to carry out their investigations without fear.
The treatment of journalists will be significantly different in the court of law as well. Ramesh Bistra, general secretary of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, stated, “Now journalists will be first detained and treated like murder suspects even before they are tried or given a chance to clarify.” While the government has responded to the criticisms, they haven’t adequately addressed the changes they will make to the provisions. The Nepalese government has created a committee that will analyze the codes, and will give their recommended changes to the government. This committee has officials from various media rights groups, and they have a little over a month to decide on their recommended modifications. The Nepalese government is not obliged to implement these changes however, and even if they do, it will take years to fully establish the new provisions.
Nepal is not the only country in the region facing criticism for their restrictions on the freedom of the press. Myanmar is making headlines for their recent prosecution of a state media columnist, who will serve seven years for criticizing Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Two Reuters journalists were also recently arrested for reporting on the Rohingya Muslim crisis, which also received a significant amount of condemnation from the international community. Freedom of the press is necessary for journalists to effectively and safely do their jobs, so the recent restrictions are severely affecting their ability to report truthfully. It begs the question, why are the governments of Nepal and Myanmar so intent on limiting freedom of the press?