According to a report by CIVICUS published on 5th June 2023, titled “Nepal: Authorities continue to target journalists, stifle protests, and seek to increase surveillance powers” Nepal’s civic space is classified as ‘obstructed’.
This rating reflects documented instances of violations of fundamental freedoms, including arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force during protests with impunity, and ongoing targeting of journalists through harassment, attacks, and criminalization.
The Monitor emphasizes that journalists remain at risk in Nepal for their reporting on political and social issues. Nepal dropped from 76th place in 2022 to 95th in 2023 in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) press freedom index, which was published in May 2023
“Civil society organizations have continuously urged the government to ensure accountability for human rights abuses during the conflict era, but successive governments have impeded progress on this front. Concerns have also been raised about a bill presented to parliament in March 2023 that seeks to amend transitional justice legislation. Critics argue that these proposed amendments do not adequately address the effective prosecution of serious crimes under international law.”
The monitor has highlighted recent months that have witnessed reports of obstruction, threats, and physical attacks against journalists, including the press council’s blocking of the news portal National Dainik over publishing a piece of proof news about the then Home Minister Balkrishna Khand, his wife Manju Khand and Arzu Rana Deuba, the wife of the then Prime Minister and Chairman of the Nepali Congress Sher Bahadur Deuba, in the case of fake Bhutanese refugees.
On 8th May, Freedom Forum condemned the Council’s move to shut down the news portal. It said that “the council is an authorized body tasked with monitoring media content and it could have asked the portal to provide a clarification”. According to the Freedom Forum, blocking an entire media outlet for the publication of a news story is “a blatant violation of free press and free expression. Press freedom is a constitutionally guaranteed right in Nepal. The Press Council must not be misused by the authorities”.
On 19th April 2023, police officers obstructed three journalists from reporting in Jhapa in the Koshi Province. They were allegedly barred from reporting the ongoing protest in Om Mechi Hospital where a woman had died during her delivery.
On 26th April 2023, reports stated that the Mayor of Dharan Submetropolitan city Harka Sampang harassed Prakash Timsina, a journalist at Galaxy 4K Television. During a press conference to discuss the Itahari-Dharan border conflict, Timsina tried to ask a question. Instead of responding, the mayor asked the reporter which political party he belonged to. He then referred to the journalist who had written news critical of him as a ‘journalist of a political party’.
Barsha Shah, a photojournalist for Deshsanchar, wrote on the event of excessive police force that occurred on Jestha 9. She was on assignment to cover the arrival of Hari Budha Magar, world’s first above-the-knee double amputee to climb Mount Everest.
She wrote, “The kind of behavior and words used especially by the Nepal Police officers in the outer premises of Tribhuvan Airport on Tuesday, Jestha 9th, is definitely not behavior that can be taken as normal.” In the chaos and unnecessary use of force by police personnel, journalist Shah questioned the same, to which SP Padam Bahadur Bista said “patrakar bhaneko patrukar hunchan” (patrukar is a derogatory term often used to malign journalists).
Skanda Gautam, photojournalist at The Himalayan Times, shares his experience in the field. “Sometimes, we journalists get hit by the police. While most of the times it seems by accident, many times it feels deliberate. During many instances, our cameras and gears also get damaged and we have to bear the expense ourselves. It is very difficult and risky as our safety is compromised. It would be better if we had access to protective gear as well as insurance for cameras. Often, there are selective restrictions by the government for journalists. While some agencies have access, many photojournalists get restricted to important events and only get invited to irrelevant ones.”
CIVICUS Monitor states that the government has been pushing for legal amendments that would grant them access to surveillance of phones and social media data without requiring court approval. Additionally, peaceful protesters have faced arrests and detention by the police.