The Election Commission of Nepal (ECN) and the Nepal Press Council (NPC) have been criticised for ongoing attacks on press freedom in the lead-up to Nepal’s parliamentary and provincial elections. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliates, the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) and the Nepal Press Union (NPU), in condemning efforts at media censorship, and urging the statutory bodies to safeguard freedom of expression in their activities.
On November 5, the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN) ordered the Nepali news portal Setopati to delete an article within 24 hours, deeming the story defamatory and violating the electoral code of conduct. On November 4, the setopati published a news that Nishan Kharel, the son of former Law Minister and election candidate Agni Kharel, had retained Nepali citizenship and voting rights in Nepal despite active service in the United States Army. The ECN’s move invited criticism from the media and media rights organisations, who questioned the justifications behind the order. The ECN rescinded its order on November 7.
The ECN has also tried to limit freedom of expression through social media. On October 25, the ECN threatened the operators of a Facebook group titled ‘No Not Again’ with a potential prison sentence of five years, accusing the Facebook group of ‘spreading propaganda’ and inciting ‘hate-speech’ through its negative publicity.
On November 6, the Supreme Court issued an interim order against the ECN, ordering the commission to cease its actions against the campaigners.The Facebook page, and subsequent social media campaign, have advocated for voters not to elect established political figures.
In another incident of censorship, the Press Council of Nepal (PCN) issued a letter to Nagarik Daily on October 20 requesting an explanation behind the publication of a satirical cartoon of ex-Prime Minister and Communist Party of Nepal Chair KP Sharma Oli, which the council claimed violated journalistic and electoral codes of conduct.The decision has been criticised by press freedom agencies and the FNJ.
The FNJ said: “The FNJ views the recent order by the Election Commission of Nepal (ECN) to Setopati as being against freedom of expression. The FNJ has observed that the ECN has overstepped its area of jurisdiction a number of times. Similarly, the FNJ views the PCN’s action against Nagarik daily as being motivated by political interest. We urge both statutory bodies to act professionally as per their mandate and refrain from attacking independent journalism.”
The NPU said: “On the eve of the election, the Election Commission went beyond its jurisdiction and asked some media for clarification. Similarly, Press Council Nepal inquired a media outlet for the publication of a cartoon. This behaviour is unacceptable. The NPU urges the relevant parties to stop such media- censorship tactics and demand for creation of a conducive environment where media can report independently.”
IFJ said: “Repeated misuse of the law by statutory bodies to repress and censor media outlets and online platforms is unacceptable. As the election approaches in Nepal, the public’s right to know must be safeguarded and constitutionally enshrined rights of access to information upheld. The IFJ urges all state institutions, statutory bodies and politicians to respect freedom of expression and freedom of the press in Nepal.”