Journalist Barred From Leaving Country As Tyrannical Nepalese Government Tightens the Screw
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned about further attacks on press freedom in Nepal.
One journalist was prevented from leaving the country while another was accused by the Royal Nepalese Army of collaborating with a Maoist attack on the Army. In addition, the government is preparing to permanently extend the ban on all political news content on FM radio.
Kanak Mani Dixit, a prominent journalist and publisher of popular fortnightly, Himal Khabarpatrika, was stopped at Tribhuvan International Airport and prevented from boarding in a flight to New Delhi to attend a regional conference in Colombo, Sri Lanka on Friday 6 May.
Dixit is believed to be the first person to have been barred from leaving the country after the state of emergency was lifted in late April. Dixit was allowed to travel to India and Pakistan during the emergency period despite being briefly detained in March.
"Kanak Mani Dixit, like all journalists, should be allowed to travel freely to and from Nepal," said IFJ President Christopher Warren.
In another worrying development, on 7 May 2005 the Nepalese Minister for Education and Sports, Radhakrishna Mainali announced that the government is preparing a new regulation to permanently ban all news content relating to politics on FM stations.
FM stations in Nepal have been banned from broadcasting news, interviews and discussion programs since 1 February 2005 by a government order.
The stations have been ordered to air only "pure entertainment programs." The minister was quoted as saying "FM stations have no right to broadcast political news" and should rather work for the promotion of art and culture.
On 20 April, the Nepalese Supreme Court ordered the government to furnish a written reply within 15 days regarding the ban in response to a Public Interest Litigation suit filed by journalist Binod Dhungel who questioned the constitutionality and legality of the ban.
Also on 6 May, the Royal Nepalese Army made a formal accusation against Phanindra Silwal, a reporter with private sector Nepal 1 TV, of collaborating with a Maoist attack that killed three soldiers on 16 November 2004.
Silwal was broadcasting an exclusive report on the ambush of four soldiers by Maoist guerillas in Krishnabheer on 16 November. The guerillas killed three of the soldiers, and released the fourth as a 'humanitarian' gesture. Silwal was instrumental in assisting the released soldier back to army barracks, and broadcasted pictures of the released soldier, but not those that had been killed.
The Army claims that by broadcasting only pictures of the released soldier and not those that were killed, Silwal "collaborated in the crime against humanity done by the Maoists." Silwal has been in hiding since the press conference at which he was accused.
"Journalists should never be institutionally threatened and driven into hiding," said the IFJ President.
The IFJ, the global journalists' organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, is appalled at these further restrictions on freedom of the press in Nepal.
"Journalists must be able to report and move freely to fulfill their role as watchdogs of society," said Warren.
"Free media is an essential component of a democratic society, and journalists must be able to report without fear of intimidation and restriction," he said.
The IFJ is calling for an end to travel restrictions for all journalists. In addition the IFJ calls on the Nepalese government to withdraw its plans for a formal law banning political news content on FM radio and lift the existing government order banning all news content and interviews. Finally, the IFJ demands an immediate return to full democracy and a free and independent media in Nepal.
For more information on the crisis in Nepal see www.ifj-asia.org/nepalcrisis.html
For further information contact Christopher Warren on +61 411 757 668
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries