One of my favorite things about working at IFES has been the opportunity to work on so many different projects. Currently, I’ve been working on a legal analysis of hate speech in Nepal. As part of this project, I was able to work with an IFES field worker who lives in Nepal. One of the lessons that I am learning over and over during this internship is that context matters. It has been so helpful that while I am completing this analysis, I have been able to someone who can explain how those laws are interpreted in practice. This was particularly essential when looking at hate speech because so much of the impact of this regulation comes down to how it is perceived by citizens, rather than simply the history of what cases are prosecuted. This is because so much of speech is controlled by fear which is not always directly transcribed in the law.
This complexity is also echoed when looking at what the law actually says. Because democracy and speech are completely codependent determining the right balance of limitation is difficult. This is particularly true in the context of elections where hate speech can quickly erode democracies. When minorities are being attacked, it can lead to violence which prevents individuals from being able to express ideas, a promise that is at the core of free and fair elections. In the alternative, it is also easy for the regulations to go too far. The law can become overly restrictive and prevent ideas and opinions from being freely expressed.
In response, best practices must be focused on protecting freedom. The United Nations has put out a toolkit on hate speech called article 19. In this toolkit, there are definitions of hate speech and discrimination. This is helpful because one of the biggest challenges with regulating speech is that it easily becomes subjective. Having clear definitions prevents individuals who are in positions of power from being able to discriminate and use laws arbitrarily to stifle speech that they do not agree with. This means that often even if there are strict regulations on hate speech it does not result in the absence of all speech but rather individuals and ideas are able to be targeted through selective enforcement.
In order to determine what Nepal’s legal framework looked like regarding speech, I went through their constitution, the Penal Code, and election laws (etc.). This was really fascinating because it created a much fuller picture looking at all of the speech in context rather than isolated to a singular point.
Relying on the field agent we compiled cases, where there had been speech violations, had been prosecuted. I then used the information that we had gathered to create specific recommendations for the election commission, police, social media platforms, etc. It has been so interesting to do such in-depth analysis and also work on the paper as it goes through edits from my supervisors. I am looking forward to applying what I learned about Nepal’s legal system in my first amendment class next semester and in my future projects.