Amnesty International (AI) has said that the Parliament must amend the recently presented draconian bills like the Information Technology (IT) Bill in conformity with international instruments stating that these bills curtail freedom of expression.

IT Bill will empower the government to arbitrarily censor online content, including social media, and punish offenders with up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of Rs 1.5 million.

The IT Bill is one of the three proposed new legislations that uses vague and broad clauses to unduly restrict the right to freedom of expression, said AI in a press statement.

“Nepal was once envied by people across the region for its openness towards critical views and opinions. That reputation is now at risk as the government continues to curtail people’s expression in the forms of writing and singing through these bills” said Biraj Patnaik, South Asia Director of Amnesty International.

AI said in 2019, laws like the Electronic Transactions Act-2006, were used to arbitrarily detain journalists for publishing stories which criticised the government or others who posted critical comments online.

In April, journalist Arjun Giri was charged under the act for reporting on financial fraud. In June, comedian Pranesh Gautam was arrested for posting a satirical film review on YouTube. In October, musical artists Durgesh Thapa and Samir Ghishing, popularly known as VTEN, were arrested for the contents of their songs.

Section 94 of the IT Bill vaguely criminalizes people, who post content on social media if it is deemed to be against “national unity, self-respect, national interest and relationship between federal units.”

AI said other provisions of the IT Bill, which are open to wide interpretation, could also be abused to stifle critical opinion, satire, public dialogue, and public comments. For example, the bill prohibits ‘teasing,’ ‘deceiving,’ ‘demotivating’ and ‘demeaning.’

Other controversial bills recently proposed by the government are Guthi Bill, Media Council Bill, and Mass Communication Bill, among others.