See More on Facebook

Diplomacy, Politics

Nepal Prime Minister’s speech in UK is filled with irony

Nepal’s prime minister celebrated democratic freedoms in his UK speech but it contradicts what he’s doing at home.


Written by

Updated: June 12, 2019

While Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli’s Monday speech at the Oxford Union in the United Kingdom valorised the importance of freedoms, rights and democracy, back home, his government has been criticised for what many see as an authoritarian turn, stifling freedom of speech and steadily encroaching on human rights.

In his speech at the Oxford Union, Oli said that as someone who had spent over five decades fighting for democratic rights, and as a result, been imprisoned for 14 years, including four years in solitary confinement, he knew “how important access to education and freedom of speech are for people and society to grow, develop and prosper.

Almost immediately, Nepalis on social media began to call out the prime minister, pointing to the recent arrest of a comedian for a satirical review of a film as an example of the shrinking space for dissent.

“Hold a comedian for custody for a film review and go to international unions and talk about freedom of speech? Hypocrisy at its best,” said one user on Twitter.

On Twitter, Mohana Ansari, member of the National Human Rights Commission, said that while Oli’s speech celebrating freedom of speech was appreciated, “Nepali citizens want to see the same at homeland, too. #Freedomofexpression and #HumanRights are protected.”

The Oli administration has been roundly criticised for attempting to push through a number of controversial bills, including a Media Council bill and an IT bill, that many say could be used to stifle criticism and muzzle the media.

In his speech on Monday, Oli failed to mention that his government is in the process of making laws to control and suppress the media, said Bishnu Nisthuri, former chairman of the Federation of Nepali Journalists.

“The government is preparing to bring forth yet another mass communication bill,” said Nisthuri. “We’ve been asking the government to respect and honour the preamble of the constitution, but in the name of the constitution, the government is introducing arbitrary bills, one after another, so our protest aims to safeguard press freedom and freedom of expression.”

Nisthuri was referring to an ongoing protest led by the Federation of Nepali Journalists who have been demanding that the government withdraw the Media Council bill, about which numerous national and international media organisations have expressed serious concerns.

In his speech, Oli went on to express a “staunch” belief in democracy, saying, “As a staunch fighter for democracy throughout my life, I believe the alternative to democracy is ‘more democracy’.

Many analysts, however, say that the Oli administration is displaying “authoritarian” tendencies, especially when it comes to dissent and criticism. Since coming to power with a comfortable majority in February 2018, Oli has increasingly concentrated power in his office, bringing a number of crucial departments under his direct supervision. These include the National Investigation Department, the Department of Revenue Investigation and the Department of Money Laundering Investigation, among a number of others.

Oli then spoke about social justice, which he said was at the “core of our polity.”

“Unity in diversity is our strength,” he said at Oxford. “We have established the foundation of a non-discriminatory, inclusive and participatory democracy to bring everyone onboard for socio-economic transformation.”

But on Sunday, a peaceful gathering protesting a controversial bill—that, critics say, seeks to “destroy” the guthi, a centuries-old Newar tradition—was met with excessive force, with police employing water cannons and baton charging protestors. Locals and heritage conservationists see the bill as an attempt to “grab” land that is held by the guthis, which lease out the lands to raise funds to hold cultural processions and festivals, and maintain infrastructure.

Social justice has been a bone of contention for many critics of the Oli government, ever since he came to power.

A number of human rights surveys have said that civil liberties are increasingly being curtailed in Nepal, with greater policing of social media and laws that could limit freedom of expression. The most recent report, by the New Zealand-based Human Rights Measurement Initiative, had given Nepal a score of 3.9 out of 10 on freedom of opinion and expression, calling the situation “very concerning.”

Oli referred to “technology” numerous times in the speech, especially “disruptive technologies” that have characterised the fourth industrial revolution.

“At the technological level, new means of disruptive technologies must be used for the sake of empowering people. After all, it was not technologies that created democracy; it was democracy that created technologies,” he said.

While a succinct turn of phrase, the Oli administration’s actions have not so much as celebrated technology as they have tried to muzzle it.

The proposed Information and Technology Management bill includes several controversial provisions. If passed, government bodies, from local, state and federal levels, will have the authority to direct ISPs to take down content without permission from the courts. The bill is expected to have dire consequences, on everything from privacy to freedom of speech online.

At Oxford, Oli stressed on the word “democracy” and that his was a “democratic government” multiple times, saying that a “Democratic government must be responsible and accountable to the people. It should be transparent as well.”

Again, Oli’s actions back home have been anything but transparent. A recently-drafted security policy, which could have far-reaching consequences for society at large, has been shrouded in secrecy, with the Defence Minister categorically refusing to make the document public. Even within Oli’s Nepal Communist Party, members have raised concerns about Oli’s unilateral style of working, with little input solicited from the broader party. Some have even said that the ruling party leaders are using “fear and coercion” to control dissenting party members, pointing to a lack of internal democracy within the Communist Party.

Human rights activists have long criticised the Oli administration for its overreach in numerous instances, meddling in affairs that have long been sacrosanct, like the culture and traditions of Kathmandu’s Newar community. But it is Oli’s stifling of freedom of speech that is the biggest cause for concern, they say.

“The prime minister should respond through action, not words,” said Krishna Pahadi, a human rights activist. “It seems the only purpose of the media council bill is to control and punish the media that does not obey them [the government]. The bill will curtail the freedom of expression but the prime minister is covering up at an international forum.”

“Oli is blackmailing the media,” said Pahadi. “He is opting for a very straightforward formula—either you are with us or you face action.”

Despite the prime minister’s assurances of upholding democracy to a packed house in Oxford, rights activists remain skeptical.

“The prime minister’s statement was misleading,” said Pahadi. “Freedom of expression is at risk. This is just the beginning.”



Enjoyed this story? Share it.


The Kathmandu Post
About the Author: The Kathmandu Post was Nepal’s first privately owned English broadsheet daily and is currently the country's leading English-language newspaper.

Eastern Briefings

All you need to know about Asia


Our Eastern Briefings Newsletter presents curated stories from 22 Asian newspapers from South, Southeast and Northeast Asia.

Sign up and stay updated with the latest news.



By providing us with your email address, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms of Service.

View Today's Newsletter Here

Diplomacy, Politics

North Korea beefs up self-defense capabilities in military reorganization

The North have been making many changes ahead of talks. North Korean leader Kim Jong-un presided over a meeting of the top military decision-making body to accelerate the development of self-defense capabilities ahead of key events that will decide its national strategy, its state media reported Sunday. Discussions on ways to bolster its military capabilities through organizational restructuring and personnel reshuffle were highlighted during the third expanded meeting of the seventh central military commission of the ruling Workers’ Party. Details on what measures were discussed were not disclosed. “At the meeting, Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un


By Zaffar Abbas
December 23, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Modi defends citizenship decision

PM Modi says it has nothing to do with Indian Muslims. Prime Minister Narendra Modi said, that unity in diversity is integral to India while addressing ‘Aabhar Rally’ at Delhi’s Ramlila Maidan today to kick start Bharatiya Janata Party’s Delhi Assembly Elections campaign slated for early next year, amid protests in Delhi and all over the country against the contentious Citizenship Act and the National Register of Citizenship(NRC). Modi raised slogan of ‘vividhta me ekta, Bharat ki visheshta’ (Unity in diversity is India’s speciality). PM Modi while giving his party and government’s view on CAA and NRC said, “Muslims being misled, I have always ensured that documents will never come in way of development schemes and their beneficiaries.” Citizenship law and NRC have nothing to do with Indian Muslims or with Indian citizens, he clarified. “We have never asked


By The Statesman
December 23, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Rallies rage on in India over citizenship law

Thousands of students flood streets of Delhi; Assam state sees five protesters shot dead. Thousands of university students flooded the streets of India’s capital yesterday, while a southern state government led a march and demonstrators held a silent protest in the north-east, to protest against a new law giving citizenship to non-Muslims who entered India illegally to flee religious persecution in several neighbouring countries. The protests in New Delhi followed a night of violent clashes between the police and demonstrators at Jamia Millia Islamia University. People who student organisers said were not students set three buses on fire and the police stormed the university library, firing tear gas at students crouched under desks. Members of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party said opposition parties were using th


By The Straits Times
December 17, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

China-US trade deal bullish news for both countries, rest of world

From Chinese state media. State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Saturday that the China-US deal on the text of a phase-one economic and trade agreement serves as bullish news for both countries and the rest of the world. Speaking at a joint press conference with Slovenian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Miro Cerar, Wang said China has, as always, been opposed to settling economic and trade disputes by imposing tariffs as there is no winner in a trade war. China has also rejected the use of unilateral pressure as it violates the rules of the World Trade Organization (WTO), said Wang. He pointed out that following rounds of back-and-forth negotiations, China and the United States have agreed on the wording of a phase-one economic and trade agreement, and the US side has promised to phase out additional tariffs on Chinese products. The agreement demonstrates the spirit


By Esther Ng
December 16, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Biegun arrives in Seoul amid deadlock in NK-US nuclear talks

Pyongyang says it conducted “another crucial test” at Sohae site. US Special Representative for North Korea Stephen Biegun arrived in Seoul on Sunday for a “close coordination” with allies amid the deadlock in the denuclearization talks with Pyongyang just weeks before the communist regime’s year-end deadline. A day before, North Korea issued statements to announce that it had carried out “another crucial test” at a satellite launching site, warning the United States to “hold off” any action to “rattle” the regime. During his three-day trip here, the US special envoy is expected to meet with officials here to discuss on the


By Zaffar Abbas
December 16, 2019

Diplomacy, Politics

Myanmar to be sincere in implementing Rohingya repatriation deal

This according to the Bangladeshi Foreign Minister. Bangladesh expects that Myanmar would be more tolerant towards Rohingyas after facing trial at the International Court of Justice, Foreign Minister AK Abdul Momen said today. “My expectation is that Myanmar would be sincere in implementing the bilateral deal that signed with Bangladesh on repatriating Rohingyas from Bangladesh,” he told journalists at his ministry office in Dhaka. “Myanmar has invited me before a case lodged with the International Court of Justice. In response, I told that I would go there when the Rohingyas will go back to Myanmar,” the foreign minister said. “I also invited Myanmar to visit Bangladesh to talk to their Rohingya people and to understand their expectations,” Momen said. Globally it has been established that there was a massive crime committed against the Rohingyas, that was des


By Daily Star
December 16, 2019