Free press on edge as new laws come into force today

- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu

Aug 17, 2018-

The government’s new Criminal Code and Criminal Procedures Code, expected to reform the country’s legal system by replacing ages-old ‘Muluki Ain’, go into effect on Friday, amid fears that the new privacy provisions outlined in the codes would hamper free press in the country.

A number of provisions in the Criminal Code say violation of any individual’s right to privacy would result in up to three years imprisonment and fines in thousands of rupees. The new law also says listening to or recording a conversation between two or more people, or photographing any individual, without consent is a criminal offence. Anyone found violating these rules faces one year in prison and a fine of Rs10,000 or both.

Analysts say the code could directly affect journalism on all platforms. “These are purely civil offences,” said Advocate Krishna Thapa. “Categorising these issues as criminal offence is guided by the executive branch’s intention to control the free press.”

Thapa said there are numerous other ambiguous provisions in the codes that give multiple layers of interpretation which the government could use to target anyone it disagrees with.

In cases of criminal offence, the administration first initiates the actions which are taken to the courts while the proceeding is reverse in cases of civil offence. Last August, Parliament endorsed five new laws—Criminal Code, Criminal Procedure Code, Civil Code, Civil Procedure Code, and Criminal Offence (sentence and actions)—aimed at replacing General Code (known locally as the Muluki Ain) implemented first by Junga Bahadur Rana in 1953. It went through substantial amendments in 1964 which is still largely in practice.

The medical community too has expressed its serious reservations over some provisions of the Criminal Code. A medical practitioner would face action similar to a murder charge if patients lose their life due to negligence during treatment. If reckless treatment leads to a patient’s disability, the medical practitioner would face three years behind bars and a fine.

Nepal Medical Association, the umbrella body of doctors across the country, has threatened to strike if the provision is not amended. Advocate Baburam Aryal says the parliamentary committees that drafted all of the codes didn’t consult with stakeholders, which had been the key source for the ongoing controversy.

Officials have defended the Criminal Code saying that the provisions aren’t aimed at curtailing the rights of media. “The Constitution of Nepal fully guarantees press freedom,” said Ramesh Dhakal, spokesperson for the Ministry of Law and Justice, quickly adding that it was equally imperative that every citizen has the right to privacy.

However, not all provisions of the new codes are controversial. There are several progressive provisions which legal experts say will transform legal proceedings. For example, Chhaupadi, the much-criticised Hindu practice that banishes women from their homes during menstruation, has been criminalised for the first time. Anyone who forces a woman to practise Chhaupadi will face three months in jail and Rs3,000 fine, or both. The code has also criminalised, for the first time, enforced disappearance and match-fixing in sports.

New civil code provisions

  • Life sentence increased from 20 to 25 years
  • Open prison, community service for convicts
  • Ban on street begging
  • Minimum marriage age for girls increased from 18 to 20 years
  • Action against those who leave animals astray
  • Ban on killing of animals in public except for religious proposes

Published: 17-08-2018 07:31

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