Journalists Targeted in Civil rights Crackdown in Nepal

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned the wave of violence and arrests against journalists that has accompanied the Nepalese Government’s crackdown on the opposition leaders and demonstrations.

In moves reminiscent of last year’s royal coup, the government shutdown major cities on January 20 and 21, arresting opposition leaders and enforcing a curfew to immobilise a planned pro-democracy rally.

In less than 48 hours, at least five journalists were physically attacked, two arrested and the foreign media has been clamped down on.

“We are very concerned about the situation in Nepal which seems to be deteriorating rapidly. In the lead up to the one year anniversary of the February coup 1, civil liberty abuses are still occurring and the Nepalese people’s rights to freedom of expression and a free press are being violently and deplorably ignored,” IFJ president Christopher Warren said

In the first wave of arrests security forces arrested editor of Mulyankan monthly magazine Shyam Shrestha at his residence on Thursday December 19, 2005. Human rights activists and senior leaders of the seven-party alliance were also arrested in an attempt to foil the alliance's protest demonstration set for Friday. Police also arrested leaders of the Nepalese Trade Union Congress including, Manju Bhattarai, Mohan Basnet (executive member of NTUC), president of Nepal Building and Construction Workers Union Shyam Bdr. Khatri and NTUC district president Radehshyam Pathak.

In the two days following at least six journalists were injured in police charges, where more than 250 protesters were arrested and assaulted. Satya Ram Parajuli, the editor of the monthly Majdoor Aawaj, had an arm broken by a policeman. Damodar Dawadi of the weekly Naya Bikalpa, Kamal Pariyar of the daily Jana Sangharsha Man Bahadur Basnet, Satya Raj Rajbhandari and freelance journalist Diwakar Pant were also injured. Furthermore, a policeman fired upon Kantipur journalist Khuman Singh Tamang, as he was taking photographs of detained student leaders at Banepa police post. Tamang was unharmed.

Elsewhere, Rupandehi-based reporter of The Himalayan Times and Annapurna Post Mahendra Thapa was injured in a police baton charge while he was reporting a student protest in Butwal on January 23.

“I was standing 300 metres from the spot of the student demonstration when the police attacked me. They did not stop hitting me even when I told them that I was a journalist and showed my identity card,” Thapa said.

Armed forces arrested editor of regional dailies Mahendranagar Post and Abhiyan Khem Bhandari in the western town of Mahendranagar as he was returning home on January 21 and two days earlier police detained Roadmap Weekly journalist Dwarika Upreti outside his office in Kathmandu.

There have also been reports of arrested journalists being tortured while in detention.

In a further echo of media restrictions imposed last year, the foreign media has also been targeted by government forces. This week the ministry of information and communications took Indian news channels Aaj Tak and Star News off the air in areas, accusing them of transmitting materials regarding the protests "that were harmful to security and sovereignty of the country and were provocative in nature".

In what is seen as indications of growing intolerance of the royal regime towards independent Nepali and foreign media, this incident accompanied reports of Indian dailies being censored, specifically articles about the arrest of Nepal's top opposition leaders on the eve of the rally. Teams from Star News and CNN-IBN reportedly had their tapes confiscated and deleted by security forces when they recorded the house arrest of Madhav Kumar Nepal, leader of the largest communist party in the kingdom, the Communist Party of Nepal-Unified (Marxist-Leninist).

“The IFJ pledges its continued support and solidarity with the Nepalese journalists who despite an aggressive and oppressive government, continue to fight for a free and open press,” Warren said.

Warren called on the king to end this period of turmoil in Nepal and to respect “the fundamental civil and political rights of the Nepalese people and the independence of the media”.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific +61 2 9333 0919

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