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New Nepali criminal code threatens press freedom

A man reads a newspaper early in the morning after his prayer at a temple on Nepali New Year Day, in Kathmandu, 14 April 2018
A man reads a newspaper early in the morning after his prayer at a temple on Nepali New Year Day, in Kathmandu, 14 April 2018

Sunil Pradhan/NurPhoto via Getty Images

This statement was originally published on cpj.org on 20 August 2018.

Nepal's government must repeal or amend the new criminal code that came into effect on August 17 to remove provisions that severely threaten press freedom, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today.

The law criminalizes a range of ordinary journalistic activity, according to news reports and analysis of the law provided to CPJ by the Center for Investigative Journalism, Nepal (CIJ) and Media Action Nepal (MAN), an independent Nepali press freedom organization. Provisions of the law prohibit the release of private information without prior consent or satirizing and disrespecting an individual. Depending on the infraction, journalists could face fines of up to 30,000 rupees (US$270) and imprisonment of up to three years.

"Nepal's new criminal code marks a giant step backward for press freedom," said Steven Butler, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "Legislators need to go back and scrub the law of these overly broad provisions that effectively criminalize the normal newsgathering activities of journalists."

Provisions of concern include:

. Section 293, which criminalizes recording and listening to conversations between two or more people without consent of the persons involved.

. Section 294, which prohibits disclosing private information without permission, including private information on public figures.

. Section 295, which prohibits photographing a person outside of a public space without their consent.

. Section 306, which criminalizes satire that disrespects an individual.

Namrata Sharma, chair of the CIJ, said in a telephone interview with CPJ that while she appreciated the need to protect privacy in the internet age, the law threatened to outlaw public interest journalism, including sting operations that CIJ journalists have used to expose wrongdoing that have led to legislative reform. Sharma also pointed to a long tradition of political satire in Nepal, which now appears to be outlawed.

Laxman Datt Pant, chairperson of MAN, said in an email message to CPJ, "Provisions relating to the privacy and defamation are inconsistent to the spirit of the Constitution of Nepal and jeopardize Nepal's commitments to several international human rights treaties including ICCPR [the UN's International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights] and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR)."

"The Articles go totally against the Preamble and spirit of the constitution that supports complete press freedom, and opposes any moves to curtail it," said Kunda Mani Dixit, editor of the Nepali Times, in an email. "Photojournalists are especially going to be affected because they cannot take pictures without permission!"

An email to the prime minister's office and a WhatsApp message to a secretary in the Law Ministry seeking comment were not immediately answered.

A new Nepali government took power following elections in December 2017, led by a coalition of two communist parties.

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