In January, the Nepal government proposed a new bill to regulate social media platforms, which could impose restrictions that threaten digital freedom and violate international laws. The bill vaguely prohibits certain types of content on social media, potentially punishing users for interactions that criticize government policies or discuss sensitive topics. Additionally, it criminalizes defamation, giving authorities broad powers to target critics and activists. Mandatory registration for any platform deemed as “social media” could overly burden individuals and risk further censorship, particularly for online journalists. The bill also mandates content removal and holds platforms liable if they fail to comply, which could facilitate government censorship. It also contains provisions that prohibit user anonymity on social media accounts.

Digital rights advocates in Nepal are actively engaging with the Social Media Usage and Regulation Bill, which is open for public input. With a population of over 31 million, Nepal has more than 13 million social media users, comprising almost 43% of the total population. This bill could significantly affect their digital rights, privacy, and freedom of speech. GIF’s LP, Digital Rights Nepal, organized an advocacy workshop on national digital rights legislative issues in Lalitpur, which brought together 21 civil society members, legal practitioners, researchers, and journalists.

Photo Credit: Ms. Sadichcha Silwal, Digital Rights Nepal

The goal of the workshop was to provide a platform for dialogue and enable stakeholders to deepen their understanding of the legislative landscape and its potential impact on fundamental freedoms. During this workshop, participants analyzed the proposed policy’s implications, focusing particularly on freedom of expression and privacy.

Additionally, ICNL provided a legal analysis explaining how the draft bill violates international human rights standards and offered suggestions for revisions.

“Our dialogue today marks a crucial step towards safeguarding digital freedoms in Nepal. By amplifying stakeholder voices, we advocate for legislation that preserves freedom of expression and privacy online.” 

Santosh Sigdel, Executive Director, Digital Rights Nepal 

Digital Rights Nepal then went ahead to document the insights gained from the workshop and make a formal submission for the open consultation process to the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology. This submission pointed out various issues, including harmful restrictions on freedom of expression, potential violations of fundamental rights, ambiguity in criminal provisions, concerns about privacy rights, inconsistency with the principle of proportionality, a vague definition of serious crime, broad executive powers, and the looming threat of censorship.

The workshop also attracted media attention, which enhanced its impact and visibility in advocating for digital rights.