IFJ Nepal Capsule Report: Harassment, Arrests and Censorship - All Daily Occurrences for Nepali Journalists

Arrests, censorship, detention and being shot at are part of daily life for Nepali journalists, says the International Federation of Journalists.

Following a dramatic week in Nepal the media is in a state of chaos. Four journalists were arrested, two sentenced to three months detention, a blackout of news programming for FM radio continues and a journalist in Sunsari district was shot at.

"With daily news of arrests, intimidation and job losses our Nepali colleagues need our support more than ever," said IFJ President Christopher Warren,

"Just when you think the situation for media in Nepal could not deteriorate further, news is received of a fresh attack, kidnapping or journalist being shot at," said Warren.

The IFJ is concerned over the following incidents in Nepal:

1. Journalists' safety

On 15 March, Khagendra Shrestha, editor of Dharan Today, was injured when unidentified assailants opened fire in the eastern Nepali town of Dharan. Shrestha is recovering at BP Koirala Medical Institute, Dharan, Sunsari district.

On 9 March, JP Pun Magar, staff reporter of the fortnightly magazine Himal Khabarpatrika was kidnapped by pro-government self-defense militias not as previously reported by CPN-Maoists. He was released unharmed on Friday 11 March at 9am in Kapilbastu.

Magar called his editor after being released and reported that he was kidnapped at the Nepal-India border, Pakadi Chok. On the first day he was interrogated in Hindi and the kidnappers introduced themselves as Maoists. After an hour he was blindfolded, forced to walk for two hours, and finally as greeted by a voice saying in Hindi, "Gentleman journalist, you are welcome".

Magar identified the voice as Preetam Pande, leader of self-defense militias, and realised that his captors were not Maoists.

Magar told his editor that while he wasn't physically harmed during his abduction he was mentally tortured and threatened to 'be careful' while filing stories.

2. Journalists arrested and detained

Sharad Adhikari, local reporter for Channel Nepal, was sentenced to three months detention after his arrest on 13 March at 1pm for covering a political demonstration against the coup in Ghorahi, the district headquarter of Dang in mid-western Nepal. Adhikari is being held at the District Police Office.

Laba Dev Dhungana, FNJ Panchthar district president, was sentenced to three months jail time by Panchthar's Chief district officer. He was arrested on 3 March for reporting protests held in response to the King's 1 February coup.

On 12 March, Ganash Lama, reporter for Jaan Prahaar Weekly, was arrested in Kathmandu while reporting demonstrations against King Gyanendra and is currently being held at the Ward Police Station in Kamal Pokari.

Suryaa Thapa, senior reporter of the weekly Haank, was arrested and detained by police in Mahendra Police Club, Kathmandu. It appears her arrest is linked to her leadership of the Comunist Party of Nepal -UCM (Unitary Center-Masaal) and not for her work as a journalist.

3. Journalists harassed

On Saturday 12 March editors of Kathmandu daily-based newspapers were called by officials from the Ministry of Information and Communication and ordered not to post news of deposed minister Sher Bahadur Deuba's press conference. Editors published the story anyway after officials failed to issue written orders about the media 'blackout'. One independent television station reported the press conference in its evening broadcast but if did not appear in the following bulletin.

According to reports, 17 foreign correspondents attempting to enter Nepal from India to cover the coup, were harassed by security forces at the Kakadbhitta border in Jhapa district.

Sudarshan Rijjal, reporter for Kantipur daily, was mistreated by police and his camera seized while covering an anti-king demonstration.

4. Censorship

Since the 1 February coup all 47 independent FM Radio stations in Nepal have been ordered to only broadcast entertainment programs.

Five radio stations, claimed to be operated by Maoists, are the only FM stations broadcasting news and current affairs. Independent television stations continue to broadcast news and current affairs programs in spite of the Broadcasting Act, used by the security forces to muzzle FM radio, being applicable to both media.

FM station managers met in Kathmandu last week to discuss the restrictions and to push to resume broadcasting news and current affairs. At the very least, stations are calling for a return to non-political programming - the current restrictions ban any sort of talk.

"We are not allowed even to have any sort of talk, even if it was on ways to grow cauliflower or getting rid of pests in the field, " said one broadcaster from Lumbini. The security forces have even been sensitive about the type of Nepali music played in case it raises communist morale.

The IFJ is concerned that if the ban on news and current affairs programming continues, radio stations will be forced to close. This will result in more job losses and a smaller media landscape. The IFJ currently estimates 1,000 journalists are unemployed as a direct consequence of the 1 February coup.

For further information contact Christopher Warren on +61 411 757 668

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