Nepal Capsule Report: Desperate Times in Nepal As Press Freedom Comes Under Siege

The urgent need for international solidarity and support for Nepalese journalists is mounting after several new attacks on press freedom and journalists' safety. Since King Gyanendra's royal coup on February 1, 2005, countless journalists across Nepal have been threatened, intimidated, abducted, tortured and detained unreasonably and unlawfully. Nepalese journalists are currently enduring one of the most profound attacks on human rights since the late 1980s.


The Nepalese government and military rule has established a stranglehold on the media, enforcing the closure of radio and television stations, and newspapers across Nepal. The environment currently being fostered is one of fear, uncertainty and isolation.


IFJ calls Global Day of Action for Press Freedom in Nepal The government's recent pro-democracy proclamations have proved to be empty testimony, with attacks on journalists continuing in gravity and numbers. In response to the conditions in Nepal, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has organised a Global Day of Action for Press Freedom in Nepal on August 30, calling for support and involvement in solidarity for the Nepali media community. Some of the activities organised for the Day of Action include a signature campaign to be presented to the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York; public rallies; and a letter to King Gyanendra demanding the reintroduction of freedom of speech.


To show your support and solidarity sign the petition at http://www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/622930457


Nepalese government dictates employment of journalists On August 8, 2005 the government announced several new tactics to trounce and subdue the media. The IFJ has received reports that the government plans to replace the heads of government-owned media with people who have direct links to the palace. Enforcing government rule further, other jobs at media outlets will be awarded to those who demonstrate a relationship with the government. Similarly, job losses continue for journalists who do not choose to support the government.


Nepalese government introduces new advertising strategy Advertising is also being used as a weapon against the media, with the government announcing that advertising worth more than 100,000 Nepalese Rupees per month will only be assigned to FM radio stations that cease to broadcast news and current affairs. Despite the climate of fear, journalists have spoken out against what has been labelled the 'one-door ad policy', saying it is yet another attempt to control the independent press.


Shiva Gaunle, vice president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) said that "This policy will make certain media houses support the government, rather than making them independent."


Former FNJ President, Tara Nath Dahal, also argued that the policy was introduced to drum up support from "certain big publications" favouring the government.


Government and military threats continue Despite continued protests and rallies for free speech, assaults on journalists show no signs of abating. On August 8, the managing director and the editor/publisher of Birgunj Report Daily were detained and harassed for three hours, finally being forced to sign formal statements that the paper will discontinue publishing articles criticising the monarchy. They were both threatened with imprisonment if they refused to sign.


On the very same day, the sub editor of Kantipur Television Network, Gaurav Thapaliya, was sacked without reason.


Inciting outrage was the persecution of Krishna Prasad Devkota, a noted columnist with Kantipur Dainik, the largest circulated vernacular broadsheet in Nepal, and central representative of the FNJ. After writing an opinion piece entitled "Why doesn't the army speak?" in response to the barbaric rape and maiming of four Nepalese women, Devkota reportedly received messages such as: "Who are you to mess with military?" and "We are going to blow you up."


Maoist rebels continue assaults

Clearly, journalists who defy government bans and censorship face harsh retribution. However, journalists who embark on pro-government reportage face similar dangers from Maoist rebels. Hom Dhakal, member of the FNJ Ilam branch, was abducted on August 8 by Maoist rebels who alleged that he defied a ban called by them. Dhakal has since been released.


Maoist rebels have also threatened to harm journalist Tekendra Dhakal, editor of the Jhapa-based Jhulkemaan Weekly. The rebels allegedly posted notices in public places on August 12, labelling Dhakal a government informant and issuing death threats. In response, a statement was issued the following day, where Dhakal denied the accusations. The Civil Society (Jhapa district) also urged the rebels to respect Dhakal's human rights and press freedom.


IFJ appeals to Nepal Communist Party (Maoist) Central Committee In response to the ongoing human rights atrocities, the IFJ penned a letter to Krishna Bahadur Mahara, spokesperson for the Maoist party, expressing concern for the Nepalese journalists who are forced to endure censorship, violence and harassment on a daily basis. The IFJ called for the CPN-Maoists to show greater respect for journalists' rights and to stop all actions of censorship, persecution, disappearances, detention and threats, and to revoke the circulation ban placed on the Blast Times Daily.


The letter also reminded CPN-Maoists that banning the sale, distribution and reporting of any newspaper is a fundamental violation of the international human right to free speech, and contradicts rights guaranteed by the Nepalese Constitution.


IFJ welcomes Supreme Court injunction on radio licence cancellation On August 11, the IFJ welcomed the Supreme Court's decision to stop the FM radio licence cancellation procedure until a verdict was returned. The government introduced the procedure after alleging that independent radio station Nepal FM had breached a ban on airing any kind of news on FM radio. The Supreme Court recognised that radio is a crucial media outlet for Nepalese people, adding that the ban would seriously threaten a person's right to freedom of information.


IFJ President Christopher Warren said "This is a significant decision in the context of the fight for journalists' rights in Nepal. "


"Although the case has not yet been won, recognition of journalists' rights and the public's right to access information shows that we are making some progress in the fight for press freedom in Nepal. The King should take note," said the IFJ President.


For further information of the Global Day of Action for Press Freedom in Nepal, visit http://www.ifj-asia.org/page/nepalcrisis.html


The IFJ participated in the International Advocacy Mission for Press Freedom in Nepal from July 10 to 16.

Click here to read the full mission statement


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

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