The stakeholders relating to freedom of expression (FoE) and journalists’ safety and rights and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) have pledged to make more functional the safety mechanism, which was set up at NHRC.

They decided to make necessary amendments on the existing Directive on protection of FoE so that the Directive would come into effect and journalists’ safety made a multi-stakeholders’ issue.

The multi-stakeholders compose a Direction Committee incorporating the representatives from Prime Minister’s Office, Nepal Police, Nepal Bar Association, Federation of Nepali Journalists, NGO Federation, and CSOs working on FoE and journalists’ rights.

For it to realize, a discussion meeting among members of Direction Committee and of taskforce under safety mechanism for protection of FoE was conducted on October 12 and 13 in Nagarkot, Bagmati Province. The direction committee and taskforce are the mechanisms under NHRC’s ‘Directive on formation and work procedure for safety mechanism on protection of FoE, 2019.’

The Direction Committee is headed by NHRC having multi-stakeholder representatives ranging from government to CSOs.

Those mechanisms were set up in 2013 following the demand and recommendation from national and international organizations working for FoE and journalists’ safety. The Directive was then formed to guide these mechanisms in 2019.

The participants in the meeting reviewed the implementation status of these mechanisms and discussed the way forward along with contemporary amendments both in substance and procedure. They were for establishing and bringing to practice the safety mechanisms from province to district levels. Formation of task-force, capacity building of the task-force and securing resources for these activities were other key decisions.

During the meeting, invitee expert on FoE, Mr Taranath Dahal reminded the background of the launch of Directive and need of getting it anchored by the NHRC for the protection of FoE and ensuring journalists’ safety. He observed, “The multi-stakeholder participation in the meeting and substantive discussion on Directive provisions would ensure further acceptability of the Directive, thereby making it more functional. With this, it paves way for protection of FoE and journalists’ rights under NHRC umbrella.”

According to him, making more functional the safety mechanism at NHRC will be an institutional initiative to protect and promote FoE and ensure journalists’ safety in a collaborative manner.

On the occasion, Joint Secretary at NHRC, Mr Yagya Adhikari, made presentation on the practices of such safety mechanism in different countries like Philippines and Columbia. He also shared limitation of safety mechanism at NHRC. Mr Adhikari admitted that need of amendments in the Directive in the changed contexts and sought suggestion for it.

Similarly, Member of the NHRC Mr Manoj Duwady welcomed the suggestions from the participants for changes in the Directive as per changed context- as in the wake of digital sphere. “NHRC is committed to journalists’ rights and ready to work in unison with CSOs and rights defenders for it.”

FNJ President Bipul Pokhrel expressed happiness over the institutional efforts under NHRC umbrella for FoE protection and journalists’ safety. All sides’ involvement and attention for journalists’ rights would help promote press freedom, he argued.

FoE expert and consultant Mr Binod Bhattarai stressed the need for sustainability of the institutional initiative under the NHRC, for which related sectors could think of resources and make plan on time.

The meeting presided by NHRC Member Hon. Manoj Duwadi had the participation of Bipul Pokharel (President, Federation of Nepali Journalists), Sancha Kumari Tamang (Member, FNJ), Bhawana Bhatta (Vice-President, NGO Federation of Nepal), Surendra Prasad Mainali (Deputy Inspector General of Police), Madan Prasad Shiwakoti (Legal Officer, Office of Prime Minister and Council of Ministers) and Ramita Maharjan (Representative, Nepal Bar Association).

Freedom Forum supported and facilitated the two-day meeting held in Nagarkot.