Freedom Forum condemns the Election Commission Nepal’s frequent attack on press freedom and freedom of expression, going beyond its jurisdiction in name of election code of conduct in the wake of November 20 election to House of Representatives and Provincial Assembly.
The Election Commission Nepal issued a letter to a leading online news portal in Nepal, www.setopati.com ,to remove a news story it published on November 5, 2022.
According to the media reports, the letter addressed to Editor-In-Chief Ameet Dhakal stated that the news published on November 4 was aimed at defaming the upcoming House of Representatives election’s candidate Agni Kharel and his family. So, the editor should remove the content within 24 hours and justify whether the Commission should take action against the news portal for violating election’s code of conduct.
The news titled- ‘Agni Kharel’s son Nishan is in the US Army, still has Nepali citizenship’ was published online on November 4. Editor In Chief Dhakal wrote in a tweet ,”We will defend our right and move to court against the Commission’s order but we will not remove the news published.”
The news said that candidate Kharel’s son despite being in the US Army for seven years still has Nepali citizenship and name in the voters’ list.
The Commission’s order to remove the news is an egregious violation of press freedom. There is already a media monitoring body Press Council Nepal if any news content has violated conduct. Such action to censure media does not come under jurisdiction of the election commission.
Following wide criticisms, Election Commission Nepal has withdrawn its order issued to the online on November 6 stating the action does not come under its jurisdiction and its was a mistake committed by one of commissioners at the commission. Meanwhile, Press Council has issued a 24-hour justification letter with the online over same news.
“Election Commission, a constitutional body’s repeated threat to free press is a worrying trend in Nepal. Time has come for right defenders to speak against such misuse of State institution which breach citizen’s fundamental rights enshrined by constitution. EC can not be above the constitution at all. Vibrant role of media is imperative in democracy to play a watchdog role. It is also essential for free and fair election. Silencing media does not ensure fair election,” observes Executive Chief Taranath Dahal.
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