IFJ Welcomes Release of Three Journalists in Nepal but Condemns Further Arrests Censorship and Ongoing Violence

The International Federation of Journalists today welcomed the release on 25 February of three Nepalese journalists but is still deeply concerned over the latest press freedom violations in the Himalayan nation.

The journalists released include Bishnu Nisthuri, Secretary General of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), who was arrested on 4 February from his home after issuing a press release that day condemning a raid in the house of FNJ President Taranath Dahal.

Also released was Khem Bhandari, publisher and editor of Abhiyan daily, and Sujeev Bajracharya, editor-in-chief of the daily City Times Sandhyakalin. Bhandari was arrested on 16 February for covering a protest rally against the Royal coup and was reportedly interrogated and harassed daily since that date. Bajracharya was also arrested on 16 February, for publishing news about the opinion of Girija Prasad Koirala, a former Prime Minister and President of the Nepali Congress.

Despite the government forces releasing the three detained journalists, six other journalists remain in jail. Of these, three have been detained since mid February whilst the other three were arrested last week. In the last week, attacks on the press have continued with five journalists and editors interrogated on 23 and 24 February and media workers attacked by Maoists at a regional television station on 26 February.

“While we are greatly relieved by the welcome release of Bishnu Nisthuri, Khem Bhandari and Sujeev Bajracharya, we are deeply troubled by the continuing attacks and mistreatment of journalists in Nepal,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren.

“The security forces and the Maoists have shown they have no respect for journalists working in Nepal. “All journalists must be released from prison and given the freedom to perform their duties without fear of harassment and censorship,” said Warren.

The IFJ, the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists worldwide, condemns the arrests. Dipin Rai, editor of the weekly Mukti Aawaj and treasurer of a regional FNJ chapter was arrested without charge on the afternoon of 23 February in Jhapa, far-eastern Nepal.

Following King Gyanendra’s 1 February royal coup security forces closed all weekly newspapers in Jhapa, including Mukti Aawaj. Rai resumed publication on 22 February after writing to the army, but was arrested the next day.

Manohar Pokhrel, editor of Batabaran weekly and Arjun Sah, an executive editor of Jana Aakrosh daily were arrested on 22 February in Rajbiraj, the district headquarter of Saptari, and served with a three month detention order the following day.

In other developments:

  • Five newspaper editors who had published blank spaces instead of editorial in protest against the widespread censorship in Nepal were interrogated last week. The chief of the Kathmandu district

    administration office, Baman Prasad Neupane, interrogated Kabir Rana and Rajendra Baidh from the weekly Birmarsh for two hours on 23 February. The following day Neupane questioned Navaraj Timilsinha of Prakash, Gopal Budhathoki of Sanghu and Shashidhar Bhandari of Hank. The editors were released after agreeing to report to the authorities when summoned.

  • Soldiers held reporter Swaagat Nepal, from the daily Nepal Samacharpatra, for over 14 hours overnight on 21 February. Plainclothes policemen arrested him on a Kathmandu street, forced him into a jeep, drove off with him and interrogated him, depriving him of food and water. He was released in the morning on 22 February.

  • Maoists staged an attack on a regional television station, the state run Nepal Television’s Kohalpur station on 23 February. According to reports, hundreds of Maoist militants stormed, set alight and looted the production centre of the station at around 11pm on the 23rd. They stole equipment such as cameras, demolished anything they could not carry and set fire to the building as they fled. They destroyed the studio, control room and other areas and ruined all furniture, machines and electronic equipment causing about $US1million damage. They plundered the employees’ quarters but no injuries have been reported. The Maoists had bombed the station previously, in 1997, but this is the first Maoist attack on the press since the coup.

  • Journalists Naryan Adhikari, who works for RSS and Kalifa FM, and Basanta Parajuli, who works for Gorkhapatra and Synergy FM, remain in jail, having been arrested on 13 February. D.R. Panta has been held since 15 February and five journalists held since before the Royal coup remain in detention.

    The IFJ condemns the ongoing violent and intimidating attacks on journalists in Nepal and demands that the media in Nepal be able to report fairly and accurately on events that occur without being forced to censor their work or cease publishing or broadcasting the news.

    “The IFJ stresses that global solidarity is needed to aid our friends and colleagues in their struggle to return democracy and press freedom to Nepal,” said Warren.

    See http://www.ifj-asia.org/nepalcrisis for more information on the crisis in Nepal

    More information contact IFJ President Christopher Warren: +61 411 757 668

    The IFJ represents more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries