Taranath Dahal

An orthopedic surgeon Dr Govinda KC was arrested in remote Jumla district on June 30 after he began the 15th round of fast-unto-death strike, seeking reform in the medical education sector. A group of people was arrested from Maitighar Mandala of the capital city because they were objecting to the government’s recent ban of demonstration and peaceful protest in public places. Ganga Maya Adhikari has been staging fast-unto-death strike for over three weeks, demanding justice to the murder of her son, but in vain. A talk program on television was shut down merely because presenter (journalist) asked question to the Minister about the source of his properties. Press Council, a government body to regulate media contents, is misused to intimidate another TV journalist. The series of hostility does not end.

Ministries have issued circulars to the civil society organizations to get their registration and approval request passed from various levels and government offices. The CSOs are asked to be limited to a single objective, and warned of getting scrapped if not renewed for three consecutive years. The integrity policy is another move the government brought in the name of maintaining good conduct but suppressing CSOs’presence. In order to implement the constitution, various laws are being formulated in a guided and controlled.

These are some unfolding incidents which are pressing enough to question civil liberties and democratic practice in Nepal. These activities clearly indicate the government’s hostility to civic space. The values of freedom and liberal democracy are attacked, creating fear and spreading panic among citizens, good governance crusaders, civil society organizations and office bearers, rights defenders and the justice seekers and journalists.

Nepal’s constitution has finely ensured citizen’s right to peaceful protest and assembly, establishment of organization, and freedom of expression and association. But the above-mentioned activities of the government are an egregious violation of the fundamental freedoms. Once the freedoms are breached, the values and culture of the democratic system are eroded. Such activities of the government having a huge majority of communist parties have not only created anomaly but also tightening the noose to civic space in the name of stability and prosperity in the country. With this, the values of freedoms in the eye of government and the people have contradicted.

When the Home Ministry issued circular to its subordinate offices on strict regulation of NGOs’activities through various gates, it received huge criticisms and objections from civil society and the media fraternity. It is a blatant move to shrink the rights of civil society. Similarly, banning people to make peaceful protests to get the government address people’s voices, demands and grievances from the public places including Maitighar Mandala, a public place near the central administrative office, Singha Durbar, used for rally and demonstration for decades in Nepal and the area around all district administration offices is another severe restriction. The government is exhibiting the highhandedness and authoritarian character, suppressing the people. Limiting public space is limiting people’s right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. Equally alarming is the growing surveillance on social media over citizen’s views that criticize the government anomalies and aberration. Anyone objecting to-know-all syndrome’ of the government is getting stalked and trolled. It is worth mentioning here that a senior editor, Keshav Ghimire in Dharan, an eastern city if Nepal, had to go hiding for a week to avoid arrest over his views on social media.

Moreover, the questions and concerns posed by the common citizens over social media and even by the opposition parties in the parliament are mocked and debased outright rather than addressing properly. The snobbish behavior meted out on people clearly indicates the stupor of the majority in parliament. The politics of negation rather than of consensus and cooperation has gripped the government. Rather than taking appropriate measures to hear the grudges, the government is acting as an element to fester the wounds of the justice seeker Gangamaya and Dr KC and panicking the general public and society.

Against these authoritarian activities, Freedom Forum, as a civil society organization, has been untiringly playing the watchdog role, putting forth its views and criticisms on the issues ranging from government decisions to policies/ acts that jeopardize citizens rights. It is closely observing the media and mass communications-related policies and announcements of the federal and provincial governments and reviewing accordingly. In this connection, it was found that Province-1 brought the Radio Act without extensive debate and discussion, and incorporated the provision that it could ban radio for six months. Media policy in Province-4 was also brought against the provision and spirit of Article 17 and 19 of the constitution.

Because the present constitution is the national charter got after a long struggle, FF is aware that the rights especially Article 17, 19 and 27 it has provided must not be shrunk from any side. It is indeed the utmost priority of FF. In order to make this constitution successful, the government must adopt a liberal and open work procedure being accountable to the citizens. The government must end intolerance for it. The efforts from the central and provincial governments to target and control CSOs and media with new policies must end; otherwise democratic pillars would erode badly.

Source: Free Expression
Issue 42 (April-June 2018)