This is an edited version of a statement originally published on freedomforum.org.np on 7 June 2020.
In the wake of an increased spate of intimidation of citizens and journalists for exercising freedom of expression, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) showed concern over the deteriorating freedom of expression situation in Nepal.
The OHCHR cited the arrest of several individuals including a former bureaucrat for their critical views on government policies. Meanwhile, the NHRC noted the rising press freedom violations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
On 3 June, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet issued a statement expressing alarm over the decline of free speech in Nepal.
“In Nepal, authorities have used a stringent cyber-crime law to arrest a retired bureaucrat who was critical of the government including its COVID-19 response. According to press freedom groups, there have been several cases of journalists detained while covering COVID-related news, incidents of journalists facing obstruction from authorities, and reports of threats and physical attacks against journalists.”
The statement also advised the governments in Asia-Pacific that any action taken to stop the spread of false information must be proportionate.
“Many countries in the region already have laws governing alleged ‘fake news’ and online media that raise human rights concerns and have been used in other contexts to deter legitimate speech, especially public debate, criticism of government policy, and to suppress freedom of expression.”
It added that measures should adhere to the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, serve a legitimate public health objective, and should be the “least intrusive” approach required to achieve that result.
On 6 June, the NHRC issued a press release about the charges filed against journalists covering the pandemic.
“22 media personnel during the state-enforced lockdown who were deployed for collecting news have been arrested, others were attacked, issued threats and insults,” the release said.
It also criticized the trend of denial of information to journalists by public offices.
Freedom Forum (FF) Executive Chief Taranath Dahal said that the concern shown by both the UN OHCHR and the NHRC over the current situation of press freedom and freedom of expression and information is apt and timely. “It would help the government remember its responsibility to protect the citizens’ fundamental rights.”
FF has been consistently monitoring the freedom of expression situation in Nepal despite the COVID-19 menace.
As confirmed by the national and UN rights institutions, FF reports in recent years have recorded a deteriorating atmosphere of freedom of expression and information in the country.
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Source: MEDIA FEED