Freedom of Expression, where are we headed?

Freedom of expression is defined as the ability of an individual or group of individuals to express their beliefs, thoughts, ideas, and emotions about different issues without any fear of interference and restraint. The Constitution of Nepal provides its citizens with freedom of expression, however our government for the past few years has been making various attempts towards curtailing freedom of expression which violates our right. 

The provisions in the Information Technology (IT) bill allows the government to remove content from the internet that is immoral, indecent and  derogatory with no explanation or specification on what these words mean.  Restricting people from freely expressing  their thoughts and opinions due to fear of repercussions shrinks people’s freedom of expression. Despite the  criticism for its  restrictive clauses , the bill was passed by the House of Representatives. This is because this law is in the favor  of ruling political leaders as this law could be used in the future for their advantage. Under this law people and journalists that post critical news and reviews against the government could be prosecuted which could help them avoid accountability. Journalists have been arrested under the Electronic Transactions Act (which would be replaced by the IT bill after it is passed) for news and social media posts against government and political leaders. Hence, this new bill will add more penalties to these kinds of arrest. The most popular examples of arrest under this law are that of singers VTen and Durgesh Thapa, who were arrested for promoting so-called unethical social values through their songs, whereas comedian Pranesh Gautam was arrested for a critical review of a movie. Laws created by our government are justified on the basis of protection and betterment of Nepalis. However provisions like the one mentioned above go against this justification. Similar provisions can be found in the Media Council bill,  Advertisement Regulation Act, Electronic Transactions Act and The National Penal (Code) Act. 

These laws do not define terms such as immoral, ethical and decent which leaves a lot of grey areas. These vague definitions and words give a lot of discretionary power to the government to make its own interpretation. This is what enables the government to arrest individuals for their expressions. However, it is not the government’s job to define what is moral, ethical and decent. When the government is free to interpret people’s content on the basis of these undefined words it creates a sense of fear among people and leads to self-censorship. People would be scared to post what they actually want due to fear of repercussions from the government and would constantly question their content on the basis of morality and  decency. This might lead people to choose not to express their opinion, and therefore shall result in them being unable to exercise their right of expression in the first place.  

If freedom becomes something that people cannot exercise freely and is limited to a single sheet of paper in the Constitution, our freedom of expression becomes non-existent. While our steps must be leading forwards we are gradually moving backwards when it comes to provisions related to freedom of expression. 

Shreya Subedi

Shreya Subedi is a research and communications intern at Samriddhi Foundation. She is a graduate of Bachelor's in Development Studies.

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