Freedom Forum’s advocacy of freedom of expression and unobstructed civic space has not only limited within the country but also reached the international human rights platforms like UN that help create moral pressure on the State to respect, protect and promote FoE and civic space in Nepal.

This is the third time FF submitted Universal Periodic Review (UPR) report on freedom of expression, and first UPR on civil space. Under the FoE, the themes were FoE, access to information and safety to journalists. The UPR report was submitted jointly by FF and Netherlands-based organization Free Press Unlimited (FPU) in the thirty-seventh Session of the Working Group on the UPR.

Reminding the new constitution and new form of governance as the substantive improvements in the modern history of Nepal; and UDHR Article 19 and ICCPR Article 19, the UPR report showed concern over deteriorating enabling environment for media; and alarming situation concerning the working environment and safety of journalists. The failure of the State to make amendments in the constitution to comply with international standards of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information; continued efforts by government and political actors on different levels of government to suppress citizens and journalists through misuse of the Electronic Transaction Act; shrinking online space for Freedom of Expression and Access to Information were grave concern that showed deteriorating enabling environment for media.

Similarly, 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; failure by the government 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; failure of the government to acknowledge the right to access to information and journalists’ safety in sustainable development goal SDG 16.10; increase in (self) censorship and online harassment of journalists indicated alarming situation concerning the working environment and safety of journalists.

Some of the recommendations the joint UPR submission made are:

• 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

• 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

• Amending the legal framework of the TRC and CIEDP to make it consistent with international human rights law and Supreme Court of Nepal rulings

• Set a baseline, indicators and targets by developing a monitoring mechanism to monitor government actions contributing to SDG indicators 16. 10 1. and 16.10.2 and set up a multistakeholder body assigned to critically assess government actions towards this end.

• 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

• The government of Nepal should transform the government-owned media to a public service media, while 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