Nepal:Censorship Hyperbole?

Following Nepali Internet Service Providers (ISP)s decision to shut down Internet for an hour to protest ” police harassment”; blogs and twitterverse furiously debated right to information and possibility of censorship in Nepal.

Now some free speech advocacy organizations are collecting signatures to protest denial of Internet access. Here is an example.

No doubt the step taken by the ISPs to cut off Internet to protest police action was wrong. Denying service to customers because you have grievances against a thrid party is not a good business practice. Also, internet access is now accepted as part of broader “right to information, free speech” territory. But frankly equating this tussle with possibility of an environment of fear against free speech and right to information is going a bit far, even after considering the censorship lovers at the Press Council.

The ISPs cut off internet not because they wanted to make a statement on rights of their customers or wanted to stop people from exercising free speech. It was just a way to show the authorities that they(the ISPs) have some control and power and they better be shown some respect. It was a bullying tactic, not creeping state sanctioned censorship.

Equating this bullying tactic with genuine struggle to get the government to recognize and respect right to information is dishonest and misinformed.

Nepali people, even those with enough means to have Internet access at home and at work, have to deal with a system that pays just lip service to right to information and free speech. Yes, state’s security secrets should remain a secret but even  information that people have right to access is routinely denied. If there was some transparency, then many cases of corruption and mismanagement would be out in the public and in the courts; and not just the most scandalous ones uncovered by journalists. The hurdles face by the rest with no internet access is even greater.

Instead if wasting time whipping up a non-existent crisis, why not use that energy to demand a right to information bill?


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