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Nepal social media bill sparks freedom of speech concerns

AFP  |  Kathmandu 

on Wednesday tabled draft legislation that would impose harsh penalties for "improper" posts, igniting concerns it could be used to suppress and stifle dissent.

Under the proposed law, the government would have the power to block platforms like Facebook, and YouTube unless they register in

And posts deemed defamatory or against national sovereignty could be punished with up to five years in jail and a fine of 1.5 million Nepalese rupees (USD 13,000).

No timetable was given for passing the bill, but activists have described it as an attempt to shackle criticism of the powerful communist government, which has a two-thirds majority in parliament.

"The bill is against the freedom of expression and justice as it criminalises online expression," of Freedom Forum, a media freedom organisation, told AFP.

The government has defended the bill, saying it is needed to ensure data and

"The bill was registered to manage because the challenges caused by such sites are increasing," told parliament.

Under the proposed law, the government can also instruct social network site operators to remove posts. Failure to do so could lead to a three-year jail term and a 30,000-rupee fine.

The (IFJ) has called on the government to address concerns raised by rights groups.

"The proposed law put forward by the government is a blatant attempt to control and muzzle freedom of expression on social media," it said in a statement.

"Freedom of expression is guaranteed in the constitution, and this must be respected and protected by the government." The ruling party has shown increasing intolerance for dissent since its landslide victory in 2017.

Another law barring civil servants from criticising government policies on social media was tabled earlier this month.

A popular was forced to take down a satirical anti-corruption song from YouTube last week after pressure from ruling party cadres.

Nepal, with a population of about 30 million, has an of 57 per cent.

like and have millions of users in the South Asian nation.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Thu, February 21 2019. 00:20 IST
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