Taranath Dahal
When Nepal got the liberal constitution after eight year’s struggle from the Constituent Assembly in September 2015, paving a solid foundation for the institutionalization of the federal democratic republic, we, like others, thought the country would not need any struggle for civil and political rights. We thought the civil society’s attention for the strengthening of the exercise of fundamental rights with close watch over the implementation of the constitution would suffice. But, we are bound to realize that the government formed after the conduct of the three-tier of elections held as part of the implementation of the hard-earned constitution and the new system in place began blatant assault on fundamental values of the democracy. Currently, efforts are rife to limit civil liberties. Media freedoms, freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly exercised as a watchdog on government have been receiving utmost hostility and intolerance.

The data and analyses prepared with the continuous monitoring of press freedom violations over this past year 2018 have signaled regressive steps of the government. It is worrying and alarming enough that the number of press freedom violation increased sharply compared to the previous year. A total of 98 press freedom violations were recorded in 2018, while there were 66 incidents the previous year. More alarming is the fact that the involvement of state agencies and cadres of the political parties in the intimidations. The local, provincial and federal governments, which are formed to better facilitate the citizens with the guarantee of the effective exercise of the rights have developed so unreceptive behavior and attitude that they are controlling freedoms guaranteed by the constitution, and limiting and shrinking the civil and political rights. Participation of wider stakeholders and transparency in the making of laws and policies has radically declined. Responsible agencies of the government have taken move to regulate press with blatant formulation of laws and acts that are against democratic values and panic media with threats and discredit. As a result, fear psychology has spread on the press. Self-censorship is mounting. The critical and investigative journalism has been jeopardized.

Moreover, instead of the enhancement of participatory system with additional transparency and accountability in the State mechanisms, the engagement between the State and citizen is badly weakened. The intolerance towards citizen’s criticism and monitoring of the government activities and threat and dissuasion for such is backed up by the prime ministerial level. Citizen’s access to information is badly curtailed. Government’s ownership of information is beefed up. To a sheer mockery of transparency, it takes almost a week for the government to disclose its decision. Upsettingly, information on the decisions that ‘may put the government in trouble’is kept secret. It has attacked the very foundation of democracy indeed- citizen’s fundamental right to information is violated. Nepal has a Nepal Communist Party-led government with a two-thirds majority. The behavior it has shown has created doubt that the country would move ahead in a democratic way. Shrinking civic space, fueling cultural narrow-mindedness, obstruction on civil society organizations, disregard to partnership and participation in the lawmaking process have fomented the distrust on this government. It has resulted in public fear and doubts that the rights achieved with struggles would be put in jeopardy.

With this in the background, FF engages in the promotion of civil and political rights with a close watch on the government activities. Able, free and professional press, easy access to freedom of expression and information is imperative- both in practice and in policy/law. FF, however, continues its untiring advocacy and watch on the above-mentioned issues by working together with the government and stakeholders. FF hopes a better atmosphere for FoE.

Happy New Year 2019

Source: Message from Executive Chief
Free Expression, Issue 44 (Oct-Dec 2018)