Nepali Voices

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The most difficult part of my job

I monitor press freedom and the media rights situation in South Asia. Every month, I lose a friend or a friend’s friend, passionate about fellow citizens’ rights and democracy. Every time, I feel the region has lost someone who could have contributed to bring positive change to society. In April 2017, I lost one very good friend. Maldivian blogger Yameen Rasheed was brutally hacked to death for his writing by religious extremists. It took me a week before I could accept that he was no more. Yameen had passionately run a long campaign to find the truth behind the 2014 disappearance of his journalist friend Ahmed Rilwan.

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Internet Freedom: Crucial Link

It is almost impossible to think of life without the ubiquitous internet. Not only in my personal and social life but even for my professional work, internet is key. In November 2015, I was in Bangladesh for conducting a workshop. As soon as I reached the hotel, I tried to message my wife, but neither Viber, WhatApp nor Facebook messenger were online. It was frustrating not being able to inform my family about my safety. It took a few hours to find out that those services were blocked on security grounds. My stay in Dhaka and the workshop went well, but I felt cut off, not being able to communicate with my friends and updating myself using Facebook. It was depressing, and I had to buy a SIM card (which I normally don’t for a short stay abroad) just to ensure a communication system in case of emergency.

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Loss of a critical voice

“You never know what’s in store in the future. I could get killed, or I could live a normal life,” Yameen Rasheed told me as we were walking around the Islamic Center in Male’, the capital of the Maldives. It was a bright sunny day in 2016. We had just had a nice lunch in a nearby restaurant during which I had asked him why didn’t he focus on his career in information technology – another brilliant talent of his. He told me that he couldn’t, as writing has become a part of his life, and he would rather choose to live with threats than live in a pretended peace.

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Maldives' Anti Defamation Law: Instilling fear

I travelled to the Maldives in August 2016 to conduct a training to journalists on media rights monitoring and advocacy. During my three-day stay in Male, I met with a few friends (bloggers, journalists and others). This blog is based on talks with friends. *** The new Anti-defamation Act in the Maldives serves to silence instilling fear in the media community which can face huge fines and imprisonment if found guilty of defamation. “… but after the law, I am not sure,” a blogger from the Maldives told me answering my questions about how long he would continue writing critically on the government. The law he was referring to was the Anti-Defamation and Freedom of Expression Act, passed by the Maldivian parliament on August 9, 2016, despite widespread criticism. Every conversation with anyone who writes opinions on public issues – journalists or bloggers or social media users – the law was mentioned as a sword hanging over their heads. The new law is a direct threat to the freedom of opinion and expression for Maldivians, who now fear that they could be slapped with huge fines huge and jailed for their words published in the media or even on social media.

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Online Media Directives threatens press freedom & Freedom of Expression online

The Online Media Operation Directives 2016 is a serious threat to press freedom and freedom of expression online in Nepal as the newly approved directives goes against the core principles of democracy and free press. The Government of Nepal, on June 14, approved the ‘Online Media Operation Directives – 2016 (Nepali PDF link)’ aimed to ‘make online journalism responsible, respected and bring it within the jurisdiction of Press Council of Nepal’. However, the document gives an overall impression that the motive behind the Directives is not to facilitate the development of the online media but rather the authoritarian style control over the online media, and criminalization of freedom of expression online. Legal Censorship Clause 21 of the Directives gives the state right to disrupt the website if a) online media is found operated without registration or annual renewal, b) materials deemed unpublishable is published or broadcast, and c) any act deemed against the Directives or applicable laws. Clause 6 also states that if the online media failed to renew annually, the service of the online media shall be obstructed according to the existing laws. This empowers the state’s agency arbitrary power of censorship. The Department of Information is stated as the agency to the register and renew the online media ‘if the documents presented are found satisfactory after necessary verification’. The blocking of website that are deemed to be censored will then be blocked without judicial process on the decision of the Department. The censorship provision is against the constitutional rights of the citizens; and a violation of the Constitution.

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