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Concern over free expression violations in run-up to Nepal's Constituent Assembly election

A Nepalese woman casts her vote during the Constituent Assembly Election in Bhaktapur, 19 November 2013
A Nepalese woman casts her vote during the Constituent Assembly Election in Bhaktapur, 19 November 2013

REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar

In this 15 November 2013 statement, Freedom Forum expresses concern over a free expression violation on the eve of the Constituent Assembly election.

The entire nation is now engrossed in the second election for a new Constituent Assembly being held on 19 November 2013.

The government, political parties, Election Commission and security bodies have almost finalized the preparations for holding the CA elections successfully. The general public (voters) are also upbeat to select new candidates of their favour for the CA which will be tasked with drafting a new constitution.

Despite this, many untoward and violent incidents are occurring at different parts of the country. These are jeopardising people's right to vote, the right to expression/speech, the right to information, and the right to free mobility and to life.

From across the country, including the capital city Kathmandu, there are news reports of incidents like bomb blasts targeting political leaders and innocent people, arson attacks on the vehicles used by political leaders, while party leaders and citizens have faced some obstructions while trying to reach an election-related gathering. Moreover, there was an arson attempt at an election candidate's residence and reports of a bomb blast near another residence. These violent activities were earlier said to be carried out by "unknown" individuals or gangs; more recently, however, the government has pointed to the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, led by Mohan Baidya, which is opposed to the vote.

The party called for a one-day banda (nationwide general shutdown) while continuing the transportation strike for four days thereby affecting people's daily life. As a result, political leaders were prevented from giving speeches and people were deprived of their right to peacefully assemble and other rights.

In addition, during the election campaign, a number of political parties, including the larger ones, have attacked their rival leaders and cadres, at times preventing them from giving a speech and generally foiling the election atmosphere.

Freedom Forum vehemently condemns such activities and incidents because these have violated the fundamental rights of people - the right to peacefully gather, free speech, and access information. Moreover, the peaceful atmosphere necessary for the election is being spoiled which may prevent people from exercising their voting rights.

Therefore, the Freedom Forum strongly urges the poll-opposing CPN-Maoist and other parties not to spoil the election atmosphere, but respect people's right to vote, which is the beauty of democracy. The CPN-Maoist needs to put an end to the strike.

The parties must abide fully by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers) and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1. Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference. 2. Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice. 3. The exercise of the rights provided for in paragraph 2 of this article carries with it special duties and responsibilities. It may therefore be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary: (a) For respect of the rights or reputations of others; (b) For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals). Only then can the parties ensure that people's rights are protected and a democratic culture is supported.

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