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Debate on Internet Freedom Begins in Nepal

(Narayan Prasad Ghimire)

The discussion and debate on internet governance is very new in Nepal. But, one of its major components, internet freedom, is drawing interest and concerns from diverse sectors in the recent days. The relevance of the internet freedom has upped in Nepal also because of the growing use of social media and spurts of online portals with the gradual expansion of internet and subsequent stories of the detention of citizen and journalists for their news story and social media comments and other stories of the internets' misuse as cyber harassment and bullying.

With this in the background, a civil society organization, Freedom Forum, working for freedom of expression (FoE) and internet freedom, organized a talk show on 'international practices on protecting freedom of expression and internet freedoms' for Nepali stakeholders including judiciary, security and rights advocates, in the capital city on Monday.  

The talk show mainly featured the views of an international legal and FoE expert, Toby Mendel, from Canada.

In his lecture, expert Mendel broadly spoke on the issues on internet freedom ranging from its technical aspect to the policy and governance. Making elaborate the points of the 'Joint Declaration on Freedom Expression and the Internet' issued by four FoE rapporteurs for UN in 2011, he underscored the need of internet literacy in the developing country as Nepal, and the well infrastructures, contextual policy and awareness helpful basics to protect one's freedom of expression on internet.

"None can block, throttle, and filter the contents on internet, and ban anyone from browsing any website. It is like other medium of communications. However, for the purpose of the security and investigation, a certain rule needs to be devised on searching one's matters in internet," he said, adding that protection of internet freedom could be augmented once the protection of privacy was finely defined and ensured.

According to him, the internet is a vast regime bringing together the rights defenders to businessmen, policy makers and technical geeks. So, ensuring internet freedoms need wide discussion among multi-stakeholders.

The participants working in different sectors from security to human rights advocacy put forth queries before him.

The major questions the participants posed before the expert were related to the hassles the Nepali journalists and citizens faced from the security agency because of the Electronic Transaction Act, prevention of the internet misuse as cyber bullying and harassment, surveillance, protection of data, fine balance between one's freedom, privacy and national security on internet, net neutrality, regulation and control of internet and Internet Service Providers, e-learning, and internet education tips.

Dr Sudhamshu Dahal from Kathmandu University asked: "Can both access to internet and net neutrality go together? How can we maintain balance on these?"

Responding to it, Mendel said, "The concept of net neutrality is the non-discrimination to the internet users in terms of the access and availability of contents on internet, but it is a much debated issue in the internet governance. While talking about one's universal access to internet is the internet freedom, some can buy very fast internet speed while many are deprived of it. With the use of internet by nearly 3.5 billion people across the globe, internet has been used hugely for business, and the business is obviously commercial. Using internet for business purpose obviously has both slow and fast pace of browsing."

Similarly, he said most of the developing countries have been facing the problem created by the laws like that of Electronic Transaction Act of Nepal while guaranteeing internet freedom.

On the occasion, a senior police officer said the Nepal Police was committed to protecting citizen's rights and human rights, in view of the peace and security. As internet is a new thing in Nepal, challenges are a lot. Cooperation from all sides is needed to protect one's rights, he added.

The talk programme gathered over 50 persons from diverse sectors as security agency (Nepal Police and Armed Police Force), rights protection body- the National Human Rights Commission, District Attorney, Ministry of law and justice, and computer engineering and technology, mass media and legal advocacy, open data, internet governance, and freedom of expression, among others.

Chairman of the Freedom Forum Taranath Dahal hoped the talk would be very fruitful to whet the curiosity and knowledge among the participants on burning issues of internet freedom and other remaining aspects of the internet governance ecosystem. Underlining the need of data protection act and privacy act in Nepal, he said the monitoring of medium was detrimental to free expression and suggested for content monitoring.

A consultant with the International Media Support, Binod Bhattarai, and Laxman Datt Pant from UNESCO, Kathmandu Office, also expected that the programme might have been helpful to augment debate on internet freedom and freedom of expression.

(Source: the National News Agency (RSS), 24 March 2015)