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HRW: Nepal Media Bills Undermine Freedom of Speech


Nepal's proposed media and communication laws will have a "chilling effect" on its citizens' right to free speech, Human Rights Watch warned Wednesday as it called for the bills to be amended.

The government -- which is drafting and has tabled bills on media, IT and mass communications -- has said the laws are necessary to improve media reporting and discourage disinformation.

But journalists and right activists say they could be used to suppress freedom of expression, with the ruling party showing less and less tolerance for dissent since coming to power in 2017.

In a letter to Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli published online, HRW said the draft laws as well as previous amendments to the penal code criminalised speech in a way that was "extremely broad" and "unacceptably vague".

"These provisions carry extremely severe penalties, which will have a chilling effect on free speech," said HRW.

The 10-page letter included a detailed analysis by the rights body on how the amendments and bills "violate international standards on upholding the right to free speech and expression".

If passed in their current form, the laws would "undermine the freedoms that Nepalis fought so hard to achieve" HRW's South Asia director Meenakshi Ganguly said in a statement.

One proposed piece of legislation, the Media Council Bill, gives the government regulator the power to fine reporters and editors up to a million rupees ($8,600) for violating its code of conduct.

It was tabled in parliament only after an agreement was reached with Nepal's journalist federation to amend problematic clauses.

There was no immediate response from the government to the HRW letter.

Several journalists, artists and regular citizens have been arrested for online postings or for expressing their political beliefs.

In June, a comedian was detained after a director filed a case against his film review.