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Freedom of Expression on Internet: A topic to discuss in Nepal

The rise of social networks and the news portals have posed serious threat to traditional media. The stories on the newspapers disseminated early morning are already stale, while the online television and radio are supplementing and replacing the old TV and radio sets.

With the growing penetration of internet across the country, freedom of expression (FoE) has got open and uncontrolled regime inviting interest and concern from multi-stakeholders. At a time when the internet has tremendously benefited the citizens, it has also become a matter of big concern of the State.

The FoE practice on print media and on the internet is taken differently, and is thereby harassing the citizens under the Electronic Transaction Act-2008. “FoE is criminalized by the ETA, as Section 47 of this act has been used by the State to nab, detain and file cases against citizen’s fundamental rights,” said Baburam Aryal, advocate and Chairman of Internet Society Nepal Chapter during a programme on ‘Freedom of Expression on Internet in Nepal.

At the programme organized by the Freedom Forum on the occasion of the World Press Freedom Day, in the capital city Wednesday, he made a presentation on ‘FoE Online in Nepal’ and argued that present constitution was regressive in terms of FoE on internet.

He categorically said the interim constitution had however included the term ‘online’ at least to recognize the internet as a platform for FoE practice, which the present constitution has omitted.

On the occasion, Freedom Forum Chairman Taranath Dahal said, “Time has come for wider stakeholders to debate on FoE on internet, and make a common understanding to protect the digital freedom, and augment democratic values in this age of ICT.”

Similarly, South Asia Program Coordinator at International Federation of Journalists, Asia-Pacific, Ujjwal Acharya, said internet is the multi-stakeholders’ platform. The different understandings about internet among the State mechanism, right defenders and internet users have caused serious threat to FoE on internet in Nepal. According to him, many countries have tried to control FoE on internet by ICT related laws. “Online media and other media should be treated equally,” he stressed.

Senior investigative journalist Hasta Gurung said, “Internet is an open university. None can control it. It is the booster of global media.” He further argued that efforts to regulate and control internet is a sheer folly. “Nepal does not need any law to control it,” he underscored.

On the occasion, Chairman of Nepal Bar Association, Sher Bahadur KC, said internet should be used by balancing the conflict and development; while Chairman of the Internet Service Providers’ Association, Suman Lal Pradhan, shared the plight that the Association was frequently prodded to block many websites.

Superintendent of Police at Human Rights Cell of Nepal Police, Puja Singh, said when the intention is wrong while using law, it creates problem. Practice of FoE by the journalist and citizen should be regarded same, she said, adding that internet freedom is a debated issue even in the security agency.

Dinesh Acharya, who had been detained and a case filed against him for sharing a news story on Facebook, shared his plight and suggested the State agencies that they studied thoroughly on internet rights.

Other speakers pointed out the need of building ICT awareness, sharing of internet knowledge among diverse stakeholders, and congruity between jurisprudence and practice to bolster FoE on internet.

Source: The National News Agency (RSS)