Freedoms And Rights Citizens Need To Exercise Them Diligently
The Constitution of Nepal, enacted by the Constituent Assembly last year, has been well appreciated as it embraces a broader spectrum of human rights and fundamental freedoms of the citizens. Needless to say, it contains an impressive list of rights that guarantee the civil and political rights of the citizens. Article 17 of the constitution is worth mentioning in this respect. It guarantees freedom to organise peacefully, hold meetings, take processions, raise protests, oppose the government and mount slogans for its change.
Violation of people’s rights
This freedom has been largely exercised by the political parties, their frontal wings and organisations time and again. Oftentimes it is used and exercised so exceedingly that the freedoms of the ordinary people are transgressed and maligned. Nepal bandhs and chakka jams are such resorts that tend to violate the fundamental rights and freedoms of the citizens. They not only halt the movement of the people but also limit the livelihood opportunities of the people.
Moreover, the national economy is also damaged. Almost a month ago, there was a national strike called by a Maoist break-away group headed by Comrade Biplab, who is re-launching the people’s war (Jana Yuddha). The strike halted public transportation and disrupted the normal life of the people. The pro-bandh activists torched vehicles and tried to enforce the bandh by intimidating and the use of terror tactics.
As Nepal bandhs and other forms of mass strikes are resorted to time and again by the political groups, they have become most unpopular among the people. When bandhs and mass strikes are called, people keep away from the streets for fear of the rash attacks of the protesters not because of the support they extend to such intimidating tactics.
Likewise, the Madhesi Morcha leaders are staging a hunger strike in Kathmandu demanding the redrawing of the federal boundaries, among others, after failing to negotiate their terms with the government through unpopular and highly unacceptable tactics like imposing a blockade on the Nepal-India border to stop essential supplies like fuel and medicines from entering the country.
In Kailali district, a high ranking police officer (Deputy Superintendent of Police) was lynched and half a dozen people were killed by the local people using home-based weapons. The months-long strikes that paralysed life in Madhes and the entire country came under sharper criticism. The government was also blamed for using excessive force that resulted in the killing of more than 50 processionists. The processionists also used all the intimidating and violent tactics to halt public services, including schools, torched ambulances and killed innocent people for defying their protests, destroyed public property and government offices. The economy of the country slumped to negative growth due to the blockade launched by the Madhesi Morcha.
In Nepal, as elsewhere in democratic countries, curfews (prohibitory orders) are clamped to keep law and order. The local administration delimits the security sensitive zone and cordons the area when major demonstrations are planned around the sensitive areas. Generally peaceful protests and demonstrations are allowed, and no untoward incidents have been reported.
Another very important freedom of the citizens guaranteed by the constitution has been the freedom of expression. Article 27 of the constitution guarantees the freedom of expression, and it ensures the right to information to the citizens. In fact, the Nepalese media, both print and electronic, is criticised for being excessively free that knows no limitation. It is also said to be too politicised and parochial, lacking in professional rigour and objectivity.
The print media is often blamed for indulging in character assassination of public personalities or individuals as a consequence of which its credibility, accuracy and reliability are questioned and challenged. The Press Council/ Nepal Journalists.
Association have not been able to discipline the erring members of the media community. FM community radios have proved to be reliable means of information in the rural communities of Nepal.
The right to information is guaranteed, and the National Information Commission is at work. According to the guideline issued by the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development in 2013, local governments, especially the municipalities and District Development Committees, should disclose their fiscal and governance-related information through their websites, but they are yet to comply with this requirement fully. It indicates that the bureaucratic opacity and lethargy to disclose information suo moto has not improved much.
Recently the judiciary in Nepal has come under sharper scrutiny for the fact that political loyalists have been reportedly recommended for the Supreme Court of Nepal. In another context, leader of the Maoist Centre Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) criticised the judiciary, and a contempt of court case was filed against him. Moreover, the court came out with a strong statement not to scrutinise the court publicly.
Recently the Ministry of Information and Communication issued the Online Media Operative Directive-2073 that has been meted out with stiff opposition. According to the provision of the directive, the government can shut down online media that are not registered or have failed to renew their registration. It also empowers the government to shutdown websites that run misleading content or news without official sources. To placate the critics, the government has formed a panel to review the directive and improve on it.
Use freedoms responsibly
To conclude, it can be said that the freedoms guaranteed in the constitution should not be curtailed by the state, but at the same time they need to be used and exercised in a responsible and diligent way.
Surya Nath Upadhyaya is a member of the Eminent Persons’ Group (EPG) from Nepal’s side. The EPG has a two-year term, and it has already spent...