Freedom Forum (FF) organized a program on UPR (Universal Periodic Review) report recommendation sharing in Kathmandu on February 7, 2021.

The program titled, ‘Universal Periodic Review and Freedom of Expression in Nepal’ brought together representatives from diverse sectors including media, national human rights institutions, government offices including ministry and CSOs.

FF Executive Chief Taranath Dahal welcomed the participants and highlighted the objective of program and said UPR is a global platform provided by UN Human Rights Council to the governments and CSOs to put forth human rights issues on periodic basis. In this regard, FF had submitted separate UPR reports on freedom of expression and information, and freedom of assembly. The reports provided overall environment as existing media laws and restrictive provisions FoE and press freedom, journalists’ rights and obstruction on reporting and access to information, harassment and intimidation on peaceful protesters, and freedom of assembly. The reports have made recommendations to the government to improve the atmosphere of press freedom and respect to journalists’ rights and peaceful protest/assembly.

Similarly, a brief presentation was made on the reports, highlighting the major points. FF made the UPR report on FoE and Information jointly with Free Press Unlimited, and the UPR report on peaceful assembly jointly with CIVICUS.

The report was submitted to working group of 37th session in 2020.

Following the presentation, senior official at National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Deepak Jung Dhwoj Karki, said:
• Many countries made recommendation to Nepal government on press freedom, journalists’ rights in 37the session.
• NHRC works in cooperation with civil society organizations.
• Three-tier of government should ensure free flow of information to citizens.

(From left: Prem Lal Lamichhane, IO, MOHA; Deepak JD Karki, Joint Secretary NHRC Nepal, Yagya Adhikari, Director NHRC Nepal and Suman Bajracharya, Director, DOIB Nepal)

Director, at NHRC, Yagya Adhikari, said:
• UPR is an ongoing process not only event.
• Thematic discussion on UPR should be held at lower levels in the wake of federalism.
• Flow of hate speech growing lately is a severe concern in Nepal.
• Political conflict was likely to weaken freedom of association and expression.
• Freedom of expression was suppressed due to Covid-19
• Government needs to make ‘action plan’ on implementation of UPR recommendation

Information Officer at Ministry of Home Affairs, Prem Lal Lamichhane, said:
• Government is committed to protecting citizen’s human rights.
• Such discussions will help government forward good initiatives.
• We will work on how government can incorporate human rights issues in its directives, acts, regulations.
• The Ministry will study the UPR recommendations thoroughly.

Senior Officer at INSEC, Samjha Shrestha, viewed:
• NGO coalition has also included FoE issues with special focus.
• As many as 233 recommendations Nepal got in the recent UPR session.
• There are around 13/14 recommendations to Nepal relating to FoE and association.
• Now, NGOs are monitoring whether government implements UPR recommendations.
• We also suggest government to make new action plan where CSOs could facilitate for its implementation.

Program Manager at Forum-Asia, Debendra Prasad Adhikari, viewed:
• As compared to other countries in South Asia in terms of human rights, Nepal is ahead but there are many areas to improve.
• Government should properly listen to recommendation made by CSOs.
Human Rights defender and columnist Namrata Sharma said:
• How long to wait for implementation of laws in Nepal?
• Time has come to bolster CSOs activities and ensure its active presence.
• Unity essential to tackle present human rights challenges.

Director at Media Action Nepal, Laxman Datt Pant, viewed:
• Government needs to be communicative to international community; improve its communication to international organizations like UN, UNESCO
• Voices on media policy reform should be uniform from all sectors.
Administrative Officer at Press Council Nepal, Jhabindra Bhusal, said:
• Freedom of press and responsible journalism should be taken together.
• Let’s share best practices as well to international community.
• Activities that discredit media via technology should be curbed.
• Those working against journalistic norm should be punished.
• Government needs to flow reliable information.
• Politically tumultuous situation also influenced media issues and journalists’ works at current situation in Nepal.
• Adherence to code of ethics could also help reduce the violations against journalists

Secretary at Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Shital Mahato, opined:
• Although constitution has mentioned ‘full freedom to press’, the acts and directive came against it, why?
• FNJ has been tirelessly working for press freedom and journalists rights.
• Journalists must not be jailed/ harassed/intimidated merely for writing news.

Director at Department of Information and Broadcasting, Suman Bajracharya, shared:
• Journalists’ must be paid minimum wage as fixed by the committee.
• After the implementation of minimum wage no of journalists receiving press card has however decreased sharply. This means most of the media houses have cut off payment to the journalists as directed by the act.

Advocate Tanka Aryal argues:
• Freedom of assembly, association and expression could be taken together and viewed via holistic approach.
• The government needs to make UPR consultation process really comprehensive, broader, effective and inclusive.
• Understanding digital form of assembly, association and expression is equally important.

Vice-Chairman of Press Union, Ramesh Paudel, observed:
• One should understand that press freedom is not just for journalists, it is common right of all citizens.
• Political speeches nowadays seem to undermine free speech.

Executive President of Media Advocacy Group, Anita Bindu, said:
• Role of CSO was significant while bringing constitution in 2015.
• Unity among CSOs is imperative to restore FoE, assembly and association.
• Self-censorship is growing among journalists.
• Government must ensure timely and reliable flow of information.

Chairperson at Online Media Association, Shiva Satyal, argued:
• Why online directive came under Good Governance Act?
• FoE on internet should be secure.
• There is sheer risk of wrong laws when there is the government elected with majority in Nepal.

Advocate Ram Maya Lamichhane said:
• CSOs have a significant role to make government responsible.
• Media should also show united presence.

Journalist and editor Rajan Kuikel viewed:
• Unethical political inclination of media persons jeopardizes media freedom and free press.
• Nowadays politically polarized news are published which has adversely affected journalism

Senior advocate Dr Dinesh Tripathi said:
• FF has done good works by bringing meticulous and relevant reports on FoE and information, and assembly. These reports have finely captured Nepal’s hpresent context, so can be used as good resources.
• Free speech is mother of all liberties.
• Amartya Sen has also advocated for freedom (free speech) for development.
• Free speech is an opportunity to express critical voices.
• Remedy must not be worse than disease.
• Manipulated flow of information by the government is dangerous at present. Access to information blocked. Its’ serious threat.
• Such advocacy needs to be continued to make government responsible.

Facilitating the event, Chief Executive Dahal welcomed Home Ministry’s commitment to protect human rights. “Such event will not only help government be resourceful to make action plan but also creates platform for togetherness to improve atmosphere for FoE and information and assembly. The views come from diverse sectors further bolster stand on pertinent issues of free press which is at risk in the country,” Dahal observed.

There were 27 participants who were distributed both printed UPR reports at the program. FF had also invited the officials from Prime Minister’s Office (Human Rights and Law Division), Information Ministry, Nepal Police (Human Rights Cell) but they failed to show up at the event. Both reports have been published in FF website.

During brief presentation, major concerns on Freedom of Expression and Information were:
1. Failure to make amendments in the Constitution to comply with international standards of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
2. Continued efforts by government and political actors on different levels of government to suppress citizens and journalists through misuse of the Electronic Transaction Act
3. Shrinking online space for Freedom of Expression and Access to Information
4. An increase in harassment by government and political actors at different levels of government of journalists and other people exercising their right to freedom of expression, including artists,
5. Failure to guarantee the effectiveness of the transitional justice mechanisms, being the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and the Commission of Investigation on Enforced Disappeared Persons (CIEDP) and a lacking government response to end impunity relating to crimes against journalists
6. Failure to acknowledge the right to access to information and journalists’ safety in sustainable development goal SDG 16.10
7. (Self) censorship and online harassment up

Recommendations were:

  • Ensure legal reform with amendments in the Constitution of Nepal and other laws in line with international principles of Freedom of Expression in accordance with international human rights law and standards, by redefining or deleting lengthy, vague, and unnecessary provisos in the Constitution, specifically:
    Articles 17 Clause (1 and 4)
    Article 19 (proviso)
    Article 27
    RTI Act: Section 3
    Mass Communication Policy: Section 3.7.2
    Criminal Code: Section 305-307, Section 121
    Civil Code: Section 21 (d)
    IT Bill: Section 86, 88
    Media Council Bill: Section 5 and 7
    Nepal Special Service Bill: Section 10 (1,2,3 and 5)
    Advertisement Act: Section 5 (1), Section 8 and 15
  • Establish proper criteria in view of the federal set up for three layers of government- federal, provincial and local- on exercising their rights  and   authority  to   protect  and   promote   citizen’s  right  to   freedom   of  expression and information and journalists’ safety. The overlapping of authorities  must  be  removed  with  while  three  governments  exercise  concurrent  rights.
  • Clearly define the provisions within the Electronic Transaction Act or its replacement IT Bill in accordance with international human rights law and standards
  • Establish a separate multi-stakeholder digital authority that undertakes interdisciplinary research and study according to criteria agreed  through  public  consultation  on  broader  issues  of  internet  freedoms  including Freedom of Expression online and that furnishes suggestions to the  government  and the public on  themes  such  as  misinformation  and  fake news  with the aim to increase media literacy.
  • Intensify the process to implement the directive brought at  the  National  Human  Rights  Commission  (NHRC)  in  order  for the  protection   of   human   rights   of   the   journalists   and   rights   defenders. The  mechanism on safety of Freedom of Expression defenders, including journalists,  should  ensure  representation  of   Freedom   of   Expression   experts,   security  personnel, concerned Ministry representatives and NHRC officials.
  • Actively enhance and build capacity of the transitional justice mechanisms (TRC and CIEDP) with sufficient human and financial resources and legal and political support
  • Set a baseline, indicators and targets by developing a monitoring mechanism to monitor government actions contributing to SDG
  • Amend laws on TRC and CIEDP to make it consistent with international human rights law and Supreme Court of Nepal rulings
  • Ensure stakeholder participation in media policy development and law making that contribute to SDG goal 16.10.
  • Amend RTI Act to Ensure Right to Information to all people by broadening its scope beyond citizens
  • Devise institutional and legal mechanism at provincial and local governments to implement right to information
  • Ensure information sharing/disclosure in open data format
  • Transform government owned media to a public service media, ensuring editorial Independence
  • Adopt comprehensive national legislation in order to ensure media pluralism and protect independent media Investigate and stop state-sponsored trolling and cyber-bullying against journalists and dissenting voices

Moreover, concerns on Freedom of Association and Peaceful Assembly were:

  • Failure to ratifying International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 87, which provides for the freedom of association and protection of the right to organize.
  • Legislation to restrict the work of CSOs unwarrantedly and a number of repressive laws introduced that risk undermining the freedom of association.
  • The outdated Organizational Registration Act1978, National Directives Act 1962 and Non-Profit Company Law 2005 currently govern the registration of organisations.
  • In April 2018, the Government of Nepal proposed a National Integrity Policy under the Ministry of Home Affairs that could curtail the work of international and national CSOs operating in Nepal.
  • In November 2019, the cabinet authorised the Ministry of Home Affairs to prepare a draft of a new law to regulate and supervise ‘social organisations’, which has raised serious concerns among CSOs. The Ministry of Women, Children and Senior Citizens is currently the designated agency to draft policies, laws, standards and regulations for CSOs. So far no consultations between the Ministry of Home Affairs and civil society on the provisions of the new law.
  • Proposed amendment to the National Human Rights Commission Act could curtail the protection mandate and independence of the National Human Rights Commission of Nepal (NHRCN).
  • Harassment, intimidation and attacks against human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists

Recommendations were:

  • Take measures to foster a safe, respectful and enabling environment for civil society, including by removing legal and policy measures that unwarrantedly limit the right to association.
  • Remove all undue restrictions on the ability of CSOs to receive international and domestic funding in line with the best practices articulated by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
  • Undertake a full consultation with all concerned stakeholders on the proposed law regulating ‘social organisations’, and the proposed National Integrity Policy, and guarantee that when enacted, undue restrictions on the freedom of association are removed
  • Compliance with articles 21 and 22 of the ICCPR.
  • Guarantee the effective and independent functioning of autonomous trade unions by ratifying ILO Convention No. 87.
  • Adopt best practices on the freedom of peaceful assembly, as put forward by the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in his 2012 annual report, which calls for procedures in which there is simple notification of assemblies being held, rather than explicit permission being needed to assemble.
  • Unconditionally and immediately release all protesters, HRDs and journalists detained for exercising their right to the freedom of peaceful assembly and review their cases to prevent further harassment.
  • Immediately and impartially investigate all instances of extrajudicial killing and excessive force committed by security forces while monitoring protests.