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Bill on contempt of court undermines freedom of expression in Nepal

UPDATE from Freedom Forum: Bill on contempt of court presented in parliament amid concerns (30 July 2014)

On June 23, 2014, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joined its affiliate the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) in expressing serious concerns over the proposed Contempt of the Court Bill.

The bill, registered on June 9 in the Legislature Parliament by the government, defines contempt of court including obstructing the implementation of justice delivery, influencing a sub judicial matter, insulting the judgment of a court and recording of the activities within a courtroom without judges' permission.

The bill also defines insulting a staff or judge of the court as contempt of the court and proposes discretionary powers for judges to initiate a case with the punishment ranging from a fine up to Rs. 10,000 (USD 125) or a jail-term up to a year or both.

The FNJ said: "The FNJ reserves serious disagreement with provisions that disrespects the press freedom and freedom of expression. Some of the provisions of the proposed bill could endanger the citizens rights to opinion and expression."

The IFJ and the FNJ demand that the government and the Legislature Parliament not proceed with the bill without serious consultations with stakeholders and public debate.

The media and media rights organizations in Nepal have also expressed serious concerns over the bill and warned of street protests if the bill is endorsed.

The Republica, a national daily, wrote in its editorial: "If a proposed bill that is now in the parliament is passed, just about anyone might be charged with 'contempt of court' on the flimsiest of grounds… to try to curb even this limited cautionary role of media in the name of 'contempt of court' is dangerous for the health of our nascent democracy."

A Nepali national daily, Annapurna Post, also wrote an editorial: "When an agency or an individual is proposed to put above the Constitution, it encourages autocracy. The proposed bill is ensured to be a powerful weapon to protect wrongdoings of the court and the judges… the government should immediately withdraw the bill."

The IFJ said: "The press freedom and the freedom of opinion and expression are undeniable components of democracy. At the time when media and democracy are maturing in Nepal, it would be counter-productive to bring on laws that could be used to curb those fundamental human rights. The proposed bill doesn't meet the international standard of human rights and thus needs to be amended or withdrawn immediately."

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