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Nepal crime reform sparks press freedom concerns

  • Published at 07:11 pm August 18th, 2018
NEPAL-CONSTITUTION-UNREST
In this photograph taken on January 19, 2015, A street vendor sells Nepalese newspapers showing coverage of the country's constitution draft on the front pages in Kathmandu AFP

A new constitution passed in 2015 enshrines the right to press freedom and bans censorship of news, which was common under the monarchy

Nepal introduced a new criminal code on Friday that makes sharing confidential information a jailable offence, sparking concerns among journalists that the laws could be used to muzzle the press.

Media have warned that the Communist-led government, which has shown an increasing intolerance for dissent, could use the vaguely worded code to silence critics.

The new laws make publishing private information, recording audio or taking pictures without permission punishable by up to three years in jail and a fine.

Publishing content that damages a person's reputation directly or through satire is also subject to the same sentence.

"These general laws can be misused to silence journalists and discourage investigative reporting," Federation of Nepalese Journalists president Govinda Acharya told AFP.

Prominent political cartoonist Rajesh KC warned that the new laws mark a slide towards "authoritarianism."

"Our work is to point out mistakes and abuses of those in power, but these laws can force self-censorship," said KC, whose satirical cartoons appear regularly in top newspapers.

"This harms our democracy," he added.

The Kathmandu Post newspaper called for the government to reconsider the laws, which are worded in a way that leaves "much room for interpretations" and could be used to prosecute journalists, an editorial said.

Nepal's media industry has boomed since the monarchy was overthrown a decade ago following a brutal civil war, spawning dozens of newspapers and news channels.

A new constitution passed in 2015 enshrines the right to press freedom and bans censorship of news, which was common under the monarchy.

But the Himalayan nation is ranked just 106 out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Journalists face intimidation and arrest, particularly if reporting on issues deemed by authorities to affect national unity.