No freedom after expression


Prime Minister K P Oli spent 14 years in jail for opposing the Panchayat absolute monarchy. He was one of the main drivers of the democratisation of the UML party, always speaking out in support of human rights, press freedom and pluralism.

Whether it was to oppose Maoist violence during the conflict, or its anti-democratic behaviour after 2006, Oli was the outspoken one in the party. During constitution drafting, his was the loudest voice against ethnicity-based federalism, and later against the Indian blockade. The people rewarded him for his stance by giving the unified party a majority in 2017.

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But once in power, Oli has lead the charge to curtail democracy, muzzle the media and to constrict open society. After he became prime minister, he moved  the anti-money laundering office, the Revenue Investigation Department and National Investigation Bureau under the PMO.

His administration has taken one step after another to introduce bills that go against everything he has stood for: the Guthi Bill, Media Council Bill, Human Rights Bill, among others. But after strong protests on the streets and media, the government was forced to withdraw those bills.

However, the controversial Special Services Bill will allow investigation agencies to eavesdrop on citizens and tap phones without court order. This not only goes against the fundamental right of every citizen for privacy, but such surveillance is prone to misuse.

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The other Information Technology Bill tries to curtail the citizens’ right to free expression by legislating stiff penalties for posts on Facebook or YouTube, and has been voted by a parliamentary committee. (See editorial)  This bill is against the Constitution, and the way it has been voted on without taking into account amendments and changes suggested by stakeholders, is undemocratic as well.

Both bills are delayed because the winter session itself has had to be pushed back by the deadlock over the choice of the new speaker to replace Krishna Bahadur Mahara. Parliament is a casualty in the power struggle at the top of the ruling NCP between Oli and his co-chair Pushpa Kamal Dahal, which is also affecting ratification of the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) project and other legislation.

Oli’s attempts to ram though the laws shows that he is increasingly on the defensive, and wants to strengthen his grip on power. Asks one NCP Central Committee member: “Oli is being criticised more from within his own party more than from the opposition. So who is he trying to defend himself from?”