House panel’s letter to police reflects lawmakers’ low understanding of law and court rulingsPublic Accounts Committee breached its jurisdiction by instructing police to book two people for cybercrime, legal experts say.
According to the House committee, Mishra and Upadhyay had posted materials on social media and talked to different media people, which amounted to character assassination of the committee members. They were referring to an audiotape in which Mishra, an agent for a Swiss company, was caught discussing a Rs 700 million “commission” for setting up a security printing press with Gokul Prasad Baskota, who resigned as minister for communication and information technology on Thursday after the tape was leaked.
If proven guilty, along with Baskota, Mishra too will face punishment for offering a bribe.
Legal experts say action against the one who offers a bribe and the potential receiver is a different legal issue. What is concerning is that a letter to the police by House committee members requesting action under cybercrime exposes lawmakers’ little understanding of the country’s laws, according to experts.
“The committee has no authority to direct the police to initiate action against individuals,” said advocate Babu Ram Aryal, who specialises in cyber law. “Such move by the committee raises suspicion over House committee members’ role in the whole episode, as claimed by Mishra.”
In his interviews to some online media, Mishra has said the parliamentary committee could have some “interest’ in the security printing facility procurement. Upadhyay had shared similar posts on Facebook.
The House committee’s letter seeking action against individuals comes at a time when concerns have been raised over the government’s bid to control social media space and curtain freedom of expression.
The Information Technology Bill is pending in Parliament as it has received widespread criticism for its overarching nature which puts together cross-cutting issues related to information technology, and proposes sweeping changes on everything from social media use to surveillance, e-commerce and tech innovation. It also provisions hefty fines or jail for individuals who post “improper” content on social networking sites that the authorities deem to be discrediting individuals and affecting national security.
The committee that wrote to police asking to book the two individuals is led by Bharat Shah, a leader of the Nepali Congress, which has stood against the provisions of imprisonment in the IT Bill.
Legal experts say the House committee’s correspondence, as a blatant attack on the right to expression and freedom, is a condemnable act.
According to Aryal, the committee’s instruction to book the two individuals is also against a court ruling, which says expressing an opinion on Facebook doesn’t amount to cybercrime.
Saptari police on June 1, 2014 arrested Mohammad Abdul Rahman, a businessman, for violating the Electronic Transaction Act as he had criticised the police in his Facebook post.
“How can we say security has improved as I had to pay Rs 50,000 to bring back my stolen motorcycle?” Rahmah had written on Facebook in response to a story shared by a local journalist who claimed security had improved in Saptari. He was arrested and presented before the Kathmandu District Court. However, the court ruled that his act was permissible as freedom of expression and did not amount to a breach of the law.
According to Aryal, the letter to the police shows lawmakers consider themselves above everything, and at times, even above the law.
“The second reason for sending that letter is they don’t read laws. Nor are they updated on court rulings,” Aryal told the Post.
Nepali lawmakers’ way of functioning has long been criticised, as many say their involvement is less in lawmaking and more in other activities, including those related to development, which is the executive’s role. House meetings are often postponed just because of the lack of quorum—at least 25 percent of lawmakers must be present to start the proceedings.
“There are different instances to prove our lawmakers are less interested in doing their primary job—lawmaking,” said Mohan Acharya, an advocate who advised the Constituent Assembly.
According to legal experts, there is no substantial debate in the House by lawmakers when the government presents bills, and in most cases, lawmakers, barring a few, are not even aware of what the bills and their provisions are about.
Shah, the Public Accounts Committee chairman, however, defended the letter to the police, saying it was issued at the request of some members. “Some of the members said they found the Facebook posts demeaning,” Shah told the Post.
Lawmakers with legal backgrounds, however, said it was wrong on the part of the House committee to order the police to book certain individuals.
“I don’t think the House committee should write to the police to initiate action against individuals,” said Krishna Bhakta Pokharel, who heads the Law and Justice Committee of Parliament. “This is not a good practice.”