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Nepali Committee passes controversial IT Bill that ‘curtails freedom of expression’

The Development and Technology Committee of the Nepal’s House of Representatives, the Lower House of the nation’s Parliament, on December 30, 2019, passed the Information Technology Bill, reported The Himalayan Times. This, despite opposition lawmakers from the Nepalese Congress (NC), raising concerns that the Bill might curtail people’s freedom of expression. The Bill reportedly penalises communication over e-mails which violates its provisions.

Local incorporation: The Bill, which will now be introduced in the House of Representatives, requires all domestic and foreign social media companies, including Youtube, Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp, Instagram and Tiktok, operating in Nepal to register themselves in the country, “within a given period”, failing which they might be banned, according to ICT Frame, a Nepal-based online magazine that covers the country’s information and communication technology industry. However, NC lawmakers said that the purpose behind mandating social media companies to register in Nepal is “unclear”, per the report.

Mandates take down of “offensive” content: The Bill reportedly allows the government to order social media companies to remove or censor content which is “offensive under the law” without a court order, without defining what a social media site is. This might reportedly allow it to define it “according to its liking,” and give the government an “unfair advantage” in silencing people who express discontent on such platforms.

IT Courts to deal with issues related to the Bill: An information technology court will also be established in each province under the chairmanship of the district judge to look into issues regarding the Bill, per ICT Frame. These courts will reportedly have two government-appointed officials, and till such courts are formed, district courts will address issues pursuant to the Bill. NC’s Kalyani Kumari Khadka reportedly said that these laws go against the principles of criminal justice.

Penalties: A fine of about NPR 1.5 million (~₹936,000) or jail term of a maximum of 5 years for posting content on social media which may threaten the “country’s sovereignty, security, unity or harmony”.

  • For those found guilty of “cyber bullying,” a fine of about NPR 50,000 (~₹32,000) or 6 months imprisonment, or both; this was proposed by the Development and Technology Committee
  • The Committee also proposed to increase the jail term from 1 year to 3 years if someone is found responsible for deleting or interfering with information stored in somebody’s computer.

NC’s Ram Bahadur Bista reportedly called the Bill bad for democracy, since it proposes harsh penalties against dissent on social media and cyber bullying.

Nepal’s increasing scrutiny over social media: In June 2019, Nepali stand-up comedian Pranesh Gautam was arrested for posting a negative review video of the movie Bir Bikram 2 on his YouTube channel. He was accused by the director of the movie of defamation, libel, expressing sexist and racial remarks through social media while reviewing the movie and cyber crime.

  • Before that, in April 2019, Arjun Giri, editor of Tandav Weekly was detained and charged under the Electronic Transaction Act, (the new IT Bill aims to replace this Act), after a local businessman, Bipendra Batas, filed a defamation case against Giri.

Read More: Nepal’s new IT bill seeks to curb freedom of opinion and expression

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