The Nepalese Attorney General, Professor Pawan Kumar Ohja, has defended the legality of the recent media ordinance, claiming that it is not unconstitutional—despite having been issued by the executive in the absence of parliament.
“As ordinances also hold legislative power, it can amend not only the ordinance itself, but also the existing laws and regulations made by the parliament,” Ohja said.
Government lawyers said that the ordinance adhered to the 1990 constitution, and was intended “to regulate the press, not control it.”
The ordinance, issued on October 9, prohibits FM stations from broadcasting news and also from criticising the king and the royal family. It includes provisions for jailing reporters for up to two years in defamation cases.
“Nepal’s media laws are repressive and prohibit free speech. The new ordinance restricts the ability of Nepalese journalists to report critically on the government and the king. The IFJ encourages the international community to pressure the Supreme Court to revoke the ordinance,” said IFJ president Christopher Warren.
A Public Interest Litigation case was filed in the Supreme Court against the media ordinance on October 21. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) and several media rights groups filed petitions separately on October 23.
Another complaint was registered by the management of Kantipur FM. Armed police ransacked the radio station and seized broadcasting equipment on October 21, just hours after a protest rally organised by the FNJ.
The Supreme Court is expected to announce its decision in the week beginning Monday November 14, 2005.
Radio stations defy government summons
The Nepalese Government summoned representatives from various FM radio stations to the Ministry of Information and Communications on November 6.
According to Save Independent Radio Movement (SIRM) none of the radio stations obeyed the summons, which was delivered by telephone just an hour in advance.
SIRM spokesman Ghamraj Luitel described the incident as evidence of “the autocratic government’s disrespect for rule of law.”
“We have strong objections to the government’s repeated threats to radio workers and verbal summons at a time when the legality of the ordinance is being tested at the Supreme Court,” said Luitel.
“The FM stations, fighting for free media status, disobeyed the order... The government has not even shown the courtesy of sending a formal letter.”
Warren described the summons as “an act of intimidation.”
“The IFJ applauds the radio stations for resisting government pressure and we support them in their efforts to remain independent,” he said.
There are 56 FM radio stations in Nepal. The summons comes two weeks after a national conference of Independent radio stations in Chitwan, where participants decided to defy government orders until the Supreme Court passed a ruling on the new media ordinance.
Journalist attacked by soldiers
Plain-clothes soldiers carried out a blatant and vicious attack on Dristi Weekly reporter Ram Bahadur Rawal on October 28.
Rawal was watching a traditional Deuda dance in his home district of Bajura when the soldiers approached him and confirmed that he was a member of the press before violently beating him.
Rawal sustained serious injuries to his head and eyes. He is not the first journalist to be targeted in the Bajura district and the FNJ is now considering sending a mission to the area.
The FNJ has also called for an investigation into an attack on Rajbiraj-based journalist Awadhesh Jha, who was assaulted by unknown assailants on October 29 in Saptari district.
Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, concluded that soldiers and police were systematically practicing torture in Nepal.
Nowak announced that of the three countries he visited this year, including Georgia and Mongolia, Nepal was the only one where systematic torture was occurring.
He quoted several senior police officers and a commander of the Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) who all admitted to torturing detainees, despite the fact that the Nepalese constitution forbids such behaviour.
“The IFJ supports the FNJ’s call for an investigation into the attack on Awadhesh Jha, and joins Nepalese journalists in demanding an apology from the police for their violent and destructive behaviour,” said the IFJ president.
“We also call for an immediate end to the violence, intimidation and torture carried out on Nepalese journalists by the government, police and soldiers,” said Warren.
For more information about the Nepal crisis visit http://www.ifj-asia.org/page/nepalcrisis.html
For further information contact Christopher Warren on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries