Freedom of expression alliance recommends amendments to Nepal draft constitution
03 Aug. 2015

Nepal’s new draft constitution which was published in July is now being considered by Parliament. It would allow for ‘far greater restrictions’ on freedom of expression than is permitted under international law, finds the analysis. Photo: Nicolas Mirguet

The international media and freedom of expression alliance, Nepal International Media Partnership (NIMP), has published a set of recommendations to bring Nepal’s new draft constitution into line with international standards in the areas of freedom of expression, freedom of the media and the right to information.

The new draft constitution, which was published in July is now being considered by Parliament. Following reviews of provisions on freedom of expression in earlier constitutional proposals, NIMP has published a brief analysis of the new draft to support the government and Parliament as the country continues its transition following a decade-long civil war that ended in 2006.

The brief analysis focuses on the constitutional proposals on freedom of expression, media freedom and the right to information. In its current form, the Constitution’s Article 22 would allow for ‘far greater restrictions’ on freedom of expression than is permitted under international law, finds the analysis.

“Instead of simply protecting national security, the draft Constitution protects “nationality, sovereignty, independence and integrity”. It is not clear what exactly is meant by “nationality” but it is hard to see how a mere expression could harm nationality, or what sort of expression might legitimately be restricted to protect this ‘interest’.”

The same Article goes too far in its ban on hate speech, says the analysis.

“[B]y prohibiting any statement which would “jeopardize the harmonious relations … among peoples of various castes, tribes, religions or communities” (…) [Article 22] fails to respect international standards in this area and could easily be abused for political reasons. It would, for example, prohibit legitimate public debate about the complex and often difficult issue of racism.”

The analysis also finds that the guarantees for the right to information are ‘unduly narrow’.

“First, under international law this right, like the general right to freedom of expression, is enjoyed by everyone, not just citizens. Second, under international law the right applies to all information, not just information deemed to be of interest to the citizen or the general public.”

The full list of recommendations and suggested alternative constitutional provisions are available in the statement released by Nepal International Media Partnership (PDF).

NIMP has campaigned for media freedom, the right to information and freedom of expression in Nepal since 2005 when the country’s decade-long civil war which ended in 2006 was at its peak. The group is founded on a shared long-term objective of promoting freedom of expression in cooperation with local stakeholders, including public sector actors and civil society.

Consisting of over a dozen international organisations, including global media associations, freedom of expression advocates and media development groups, the partnership alliance has over the years highlighted the grave conditions for press freedom and brought together key stakeholders, including leaders of all major political parties and heads of security agencies and government officials, seeking commitments for guarantees of media rights and the safety of journalists.

Nepal’s transition, which began in April 2006 after the country’s decade-long civil war ended, has become less violent but remains complex. According to the Federation of Nepali Journalists, there has been a decline in attacks on journalists in recent years. However, there has been an increase in self-censorship, which could also explain the decrease in attacks — that journalists may be seeking refuge through self-imposed restrictions and ‘playing it safe’, says the Federation.

Nepal International Media Partnership reviewed provisions on freedom of expression, freedom of the media and the right to information in Nepal’s previous constitution and in proposals for a new statute in February 2012. The 2012 review suggested that many of the provisions in the Interim Constitution still fell short of international standards.

For background information on NIMP and its work in Nepal over the past decade, please see reports listed at the top-right of this page.