The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is alarmed by the arrest on January 19, of more than 100 human rights activists, political leaders, student leaders and trade union activists on the eve of a major demonstration. Among those arrested is Shyam Shreshta, editor of Mulyankan magazine.
“The repression of all those daring to resist the autocratic regime represents a severe challenge to the restoration of democracy in Nepal,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren, who demanded that the detained persons be immediately released.
In an eerie replay of the royal takeover of February 1, last year, a curfew was clamped, mobile phones completely cut off, landlines arbitrarily shut down and all political demonstrations banned. Several senior political leaders were placed under house arrest and second rung leaders detained, in an attempt to foil the political rally scheduled for Friday January 20.
The governments of the United States, United Kingdom, India and the European Union are among the first to have condemned King Gyanendra’s actions in attempting to curb peaceful political activity in the country. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan had repeatedly called for urgent dialogue in order to avoid confrontation, and for a bilateral ceasefire between the Government and the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist. This appeal was not heeded, and the four-month unilateral ceasefire declared by the Maoists came to an end.
More repression is on the anvil as the anniversary of the February 1 coup, and municipal elections scheduled for February 8 approach. Political parties and human rights activists have termed the elections a “sham” of democracy, and an attempt to consolidate the autocratic regime. The Maoists have declared a boycott of the polls.
The arrested were detained under Nepal's Public Security Act (PSA) which permits detention without trial, initially for up to 90 days, to prevent persons from committing actions that "undermine the sovereignty, integrity or public tranquility and order of the Kingdom."
The IFJ fears for the safety of journalists and other human rights defenders in the current climate of repression, and urges the king to respect fundamental civil and political rights.
“This blatant violation of the right of the Nepali people to peaceful assembly and democratic dissent must immediately cease,” said Warren, calling upon the King to also respect the independent role of the media.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries