Law against criticising Nepal king may be axed

November 14th, 2008 - 5:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Nov 14 (IANS) Members of Nepal’s former royal family, once considered to be above the law, should now be treated as common citizens and all existing laws that still uphold royal privileges should be scrapped, the apex court has told the government.The Supreme Court Thursday ordered the government led by Maoists, who had fought a 10-year war to topple the country’s 239-year-old monarchy, to scrap three laws that still make it a punishable offence in the republic of Nepal to criticise the royal family.

The State Offence Act was formulated in 1989, just a year before a pro-democracy movement that curbed the absolute power of the monarch and reduced him to a constitutional king.

However, the governments that followed the pro-democracy revolt of 1990 did not nullify the law that could punish anyone critical of the king or any other member of the royal family through words, writing or simply thought, with three years in prison or a fine of Nepali Rs.3,000 or both.

Indeed, two more laws passed after the restoration of democracy, the Printing Press and Publishing Act of 1991 and National Broadcasting Regulation of 1995, also banned criticism of the royals.

The laws were challenged by an NGO, Freedom Forum, which asked the apex court to strike them down since Nepal no longer had a king.

After a new anti-monarchy wave two years ago, led by the Maoist guerrillas, the nation went to election in April and a month later, voted to sack the unpopular king Gyanendra, who had tried to seize the absolute power his ancestors enjoyed with the help of an army-backed coup.

Though the three judges hearing the petition dismissed it, saying the new interim constitution had provisions to treat the deposed king and his family as commoners, it, however, asked the government to scrap or amend the three laws.

It was a case of things coming full circle for Gyanendra.

In 2005, when the headstrong king grabbed power, he had freshly banned any criticism of himself and his family members.

The king’s heir and former crown prince Paras perhaps needed the acts the most, being the most controversial member of the royal family whose wild behaviour - which included running over a popular musician and firing outside a discotheque - triggered public indignation despite the laws.

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