IFJ Calls for the Immediate Release of Journalists in Nepal

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is calling for the immediate release of journalist Bhawana Prasain who has been held and beaten in custody since February 9, reports of her beating follow the arrests of two journalists and news of the Royal Nepal Army’s (RNA) plan to operate ten mobile FM stations across Nepal.

The IFJ is concerned over the following incidents in Nepal:

Journalists arrested

At approximately 8am on March 3, Jaya Prakash Gupta, editor of Kathmandu based, Sandhyakalin Upatyaka Daily was arrested from his office. Gupta was taken to court for remand and kept at Hanumandhoka Police Office where he will be kept for ten days under the Offence against the State Act.

According to IFJ affiliate, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), Gupta was arrested due to his newspaper publishing a story of a bomb blast where the king was residing.

Two days after Gupta’s detention, police restricted the selling the Sandhyakalin Upatyaka Daily. The FNJ have been refused access to meet with Gupta and the IFJ joins them in their call for his immediate release.

Amar Bahadur Sunar, correspondent in Dailekh, western Nepal for the government news agency RSS and the national daily Rajdhani, was arrested and held for four hours on March 2 while attending a FNJ – UNESCO workshop. Plain-clothes police searched Sunar’s house the night prior to his arrest. His arrest is reportedly in connection with fellow journalists who support the king reporting him to local police.

Journalist beaten in custody

The arrests follow reports of Majdur Aawaj journalist Bhawana Prasain being beaten in custody by police attempting to extract a confession of CPN-Maoist party membership. Prasain, 24, has been held since February 9, 2006 when she was arrested at a pro-democracy demonstration in Kathmandu. Police reported finding leftist organisation leaflets in her bag.

Prasain was taken to police stations in Singh Durbar, then Hanumandhoka after three days she was transferred to the Kathmandu central prison.

On March 2, the Supreme Court ordered the government to justify Prasain’s detention following a habeas corpus request lodged by her employer, Satyaram Parajuli, editor of Majdur Aawaj.

Army plans to operate FM stations

The Royal Nepalese Army (RNA) has plans to operate ten mobile FM stations across the Nepal "to counter Maoist propaganda".

The RNA which currently operates radio and television programs giving information on army activities and against “terrorism” in Nepal, will operate four FM stations with the capacity of one kilowatt and six others with the capacity of 250 watt.

Media reports in Nepal claim the Ministry of Information and Communications has exempted the RNA from licence charges for the stations, while the government has freed it from customs duty on imports of FM equipment.

IFJ president Christopher Warren criticised the use of public broadcasting frequencies for army propaganda purposes particularly at a time when authorities are trying to shut down independent radio news.

“This is another example of the government crackdown on the media in Nepal”, he said.

“Journalists in Nepal have experienced arrests, violence and exclusion; this exploitation of the radio medium by the army and government is a further step in a campaign against a free and independent media”.

“A free media is essential to ensure democracy”, he said.

Warren voiced the IFJ’s solidarity with those campaigning to retain the media’s independence in Nepal since King Gyanendra established autocratic rule more than a year ago.

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

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