The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has expressed serious concern at growing restrictions on freedom of movement and expression in Kathmandu.
The Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) general secretary Mahendra Bista described Kathmandu as a ‘restricted zone’ after police forcibly barred protestors from accessing a peaceful rally organised by the University Teachers’ Association in the Tripureshwor area on February 3.
Prevented from entering Tripureshwor, the protestors regrouped in Thapathali and later converged at a corner meeting at Tinkune.
Up to 50 journalists, university teachers and human rights activists were arrested for attempting to enter the areas and participate in the rally. Many arrests were made before the rally program had even begun.
Among those arrested were FNJ president Bishnu Nishturi, vice president Sanjaya Santoshi Rai, Jhapa district president Krishna Humagain and past president Harihar Birahi. The FNJ leaders were detained immediately upon leaving their taxi. They were held overnight, without arrest warrants, and were not released until the following morning.
Others arrested outside the rally area were handed 90-day detention orders.
This incident is the latest in a series of heavy-handed police responses to peaceful attempts to exercise freedom of speech, movement and assembly. It comes as part of a nationwide crackdown on journalists and activists in response to the growing tension surrounding the one-year anniversary and the upcoming controversial municipal elections.
Security forces have also continued to harass and detain journalists and activists outside Kathmandu over the last few days.
Two journalists were arrested on February 7, while monitoring the movement against the royal movement, J.B Ghale Magar , FNJ vice president of Dhankuta Chapter and Tikaram Ghimire, a journalist from Udhgosh Daily were arrested.
Security forces intervened and arrested up to a dozen media personnel at a peaceful protest rally in the eastern town of Rajbiraj on February 5. The rally was organised by the Saptari chapter of the FNJ to protest against the recent wave of arrests of journalists across the country.
On the same day, Rabi Dhami, the district correspondent of Annapurna Post daily, was manhandled and threatened by plain-clothes security personnel before being detained for an hour in Kanchanpur. Meanwhile, Jitendra Khadga, chairman of the Youth Journalists Society, Saptari, was mistreated and detained for two hours in Rajbiraj after attempting to leave a public bus when armed security personnel boarded it.
Media facilities have also taken the brunt of attacks. Radio station FM Paschimanchal sustained serious damage during a vicious clash between security forces and Maoist guerrillas at Tansen on January 31, 2006.
Station buildings and equipment were damaged when guerrillas maintained fire on retreating security forces taking shelter in the FM Paschimanchal premises.
The station has been unable to broadcast since the attack, with director Gangadhar Bhattarai estimating the repair bill at over US$20,000. The FNJ has requested compensation and assistance from the Nepalese Government in order to resume broadcasts.
In a statement issued on February 3, a spokesperson for the People’s Army stated that the attacks were purely retaliatory, and denied that guerilla forces had deliberately targeted the station.
These incidents represent a serious and ongoing threat to press freedom in Nepal. The IFJ strongly urges the Nepal government to support the peaceful exercise of civil liberties and provide necessary protection for journalists and media facilities.
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. Available online at http://www.ifj-asia.org/files/one_year_on_-_ifj_report_on_nepal.pdf
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries