Prateek Pradhan, editor-in-chief, baahrakhari.com, recalls the Nepal King’s absolute communication clampdown in Nepal more than a dozen years ago, and discusses the lessons learned.
Ujjwal Acharya: In February, 2005, King Gyanendra cut off all communication channels, including the internet, for weeks. You were the editor of The Kathmandu Post daily newspaper. How do you remember the time?
Prateek Pradhan: I very vividly remember the day. The King was addressing the nation at around 9:30 am and he has just announced that he was taking over executive powers. It was shocking, as the country was a democracy and we never thought at that juncture that King Gyanendra would take such a bold step. At that time, I was editor of the Kathmandu Post, and I got a call from the royal Secretariat and was summoned to a meeting. The Secretary also told me that that was the last phone call he was making.
We (editors) went to the palace to meet the Secretary, and we protested. He threatened us that if we didn’t comply with the authorities, anything could happen to us. At that time, all phone lines were cut, internet was cut, and there was a kind of chaos as people didn’t know what was happening. Military surrounded all media houses; young military officers were going through all the contents we were writing. It was very difficult time for media and journalists. It was very very difficult to publish newspapers.
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.
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.
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.
(to mark the International Human Rights Day)
How you feel if someone says: “Eat as much as you can (before the food is ready)” and when the food is ready, you are told: “That’s enough: you are eating too much.”
That’s exactly what is happening with our rights to freedom of expression and opinion!
Citizens around the world living in democratic countries were guaranteed rights to freedom of expression for long. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, promulgated long ago in 1948 by UN General Assembly, has explicitly stated it in Article 19.
All democratic nations around the world have copied, rephrased/translated and pasted the text in their constitutions. As citizens we’ll thought well we’ve individually rights to freedom of expression and opinion.
We didn’t have a powerful medium through which we could effectively exercise the rights and we were made to believe media is mediating the rights on behalf of us.
But we are being deceived!
The Internet emerged as a powerful medium that every individual around the world could use to exercise the rights to freedom of expression and opinion. When blogging emerged, it was evident. If blogs were difficult to set up and continued, then social media (on internet) is the easiest tool to use to express ourselves.