IFJ Condemns Media Ban During Nepalese Municipal Elections

The IFJ today condemned attempts by the Nepalese Government to prevent coverage of the country’s first democratic elections since 1999, as security forces imposed a blanket “no entry” policy for media personnel at election venues as the controversial polls took place amidst tight security on Wednesday February 8, 2006.

Two journalists covering polls in Ilam were arrested and detained overnight without charges. Two more journalists were arrested and another beaten by police while trying to cover the elections in Dharan and Kalaiva. In Chitwan, a journalist was manhandled and briefly detained by police, while security forces threatened two journalists who tried to talk to voters and take photographs at a polling booth in New Baneshwor. Journalists were forcibly excluded in a spate of arrests and beatings at polling venues throughout the country.

Photojournalists in Kakaryitta and Dhankuta had their cameras confiscated by police after taking shots of people casting votes. Last month, media personnel protested after the government barred press from meeting municipality candidates. These actions place growing question marks over the legitimacy of Nepal’s elections. Presented by King Gyanendra as a step towards democracy, the elections have been slammed as bogus by Nepalese and international critics alike.

Wednesday’s polling came on the fourth day of a one-week national strike called by the Maoists in protest against the elections. Voter turnout was dismal on the day following boycotts by both the Maoists and Nepal’s seven main political parties. One person was killed and hundreds arrested as security forces clamped down on nationwide protests aimed at disrupting the polling. The situation has provoked outcry amongst the international community.

A press statement released by the United States Department of State on February 8 condemned king Gyanendra’s election move as ‘a hollow attempt to legitimise his power’.

A joint appeal on Monday February 6 by the Forum for Protection of Human Rights (FOPHUR) and the Human Rights Organisation of Nepal (HURON) to United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan called the UN to take urgent action against ‘gross violations of human rights’ in relation to the municipal elections.

The IFJ emphasises the crucial importance of media freedom and transparency to the democratic political process, and condemns all incidences of violence and exclusion against journalists.

For more information on the situation in Nepal please refer to the IFJ report: Nepal One Year On: Censorship, Crackdown and Courage, released on February 1, 2006. 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries