An intolerant state

Editorial in Kantipur, 1 July

The government’s move to curtail civil rights by banning protests in public places is condemnable. This is against our constitutional right to peaceful assembly and protest. It is unfortunate that this democratically-elected government is showing such an undemocratic character. It also indicates that the government is indeed morphing into a totalitarian regime.

In April, the government had declared some areas ‘restricted zones’ in Kathmandu. Now, it has declared such zones in all 77 districts. When a demonstration was held in Maitighar Mandala to oppose the government’s move aimed at silencing civil society, police detained protesters. In Jumla, police arrested crusader Govinda KC when he was preparing for a hunger strike against the Education Ministry’s proposal to dilute the Medical Education Bill, which was drafted following past deals between the doctor and the government. KC was about to start his fast-onto-death at Jumla Hosptial, when the local government suddenly declared it a no-protest zone. This was a move to foil KC’s protest.

The constitution, promulgated by an elected assembly, not only guarantees freedom of expression but also our right to peaceful assembly. To be sure, the constitution allows the government to ban activities against our sovereignty, territorial integrity, and malicious efforts to stoke ethno-religious strife or perpetuate caste-based discrimination. But this government is being increasingly intolerant of dissenting views, and is crushing opposition voices. This is certainly not how a democratic government functions, or should function. Instead, it is a stark reminder of a familiar time in the past when people did not have freedom of expression. It is a flashback to the days of the absolute monarchy.

People participate in a democracy by communicating with elected rulers. The public’s views, whether it is opposing, supporting or neutral, should be heard, and their demands taken into consideration. The government should be held accountable for all its actions, and that is the only way democracy is strengthened. This is what makes a genuine democracy possible. It was for these rights and an open society that the Nepali people united to overthrow the monarchy and establish democracy. Unfortunately, the democratic state which the people sacrificed a lot to establish is not following its core values.

In most cases, demonstrations are held not for any other reason but to expose neglect and indifference of the government. It is frustrating when a government elected by the people does not take into consideration the needs of those very people. It is therefore only natural that the people should take peacefully to the streets to express their grievances. The government is adding more fuel to the fire by its irrational prohibitory orders.

Last month, an NTV talk show was forced off the air after its host grilled the Information and Communications Minister, who happens to be the government’s spokesperson. Such an undemocratic attitude by a supposedly democratic government has angered the people. The government needs to immediately stop cracking down on democratic freedoms, because these actions will weaken the system and limit people’s hard-won freedoms.