The situation in Nepal remains critical for journalists, who face the possibility of kidnappings, torture and arrest on a daily basis. Beyond the violent intimidation of journalists is the prospect of job cuts and widespread censorship. Each of these factors is having a crippling effect on democracy in Nepal, and is a step backwards for a media that had made some positive progress in recent years.
The latest development in this grim series of events is that the life of Gokul Baskota, executive editor of Kathmandu’s Dristi Weekly, is believed to be in serious danger as he continues to receive regular death threats.
According to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), on July 18 and 19, three unknown people followed Baskota, it is believed with the intention to harm him. Baskota has also been receiving regular threatening phone calls.
In recent months there have been several incidents of threats, harassment and kidnappings of journalists in Nepal.
“The IFJ is deeply concerned about the unsafe conditions that Nepalese journalists face on a day-to-day basis,” said IFJ President Christopher Warren.
“While the very real threat of physical harm must be addressed immediately, we cannot ignore the more wide-reaching obstruction of free speech that results from the bullying of journalists.”
The IFJ, the global organisation representing over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries, is investigating the possibility of finding refuge for Baskota in a ‘safe house’.
The threats to Baskota come against a backdrop of retribution for independent journalists in Nepal. On July 24, 21 pro-democratic journalists employed by public broadcaster Nepal Television (NTV) were sacked as a punitive action for their involvement in the FNJ-led movement for the restoration of complete media freedom.
Previous to the current spate of sackings, the FNJ’s Banke district president, Prem KC, was told to either resign from his position of FNJ’s district president or quit his job as a reporter at NTV. He was officially dismissed from his job on June 16.
“The mass sacking of journalists would be worrying in any context, but especially when it occurs at a state-owned public broadcaster.”
“Any façade of editorial independence and accountability is thrown out the window when journalists are dismissed for their political affiliations or independent reporting,” said Warren.
FNJ secretary, Balaram Baniya, has called for the “immediate restoration of the wronged colleagues and…on the government to respect the freedom of the independent media and mediapersons”.
Meanwhile, many of the media bans put in place by King Gyanendra on February 1, 2005 remain in force, with no explanation as to why it is necessary to block many websites, bar dozens of independent radio stations from broadcasting news, or cut off thousands of mobile phone connections.
Gyanendra fired the government on February 1, suspended civil liberties and press freedom and blocked internet access in a move he said was needed to fight an anti-monarchy Maoist revolt that has left 12,500 people dead.
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 contact Christopher Warren on +61 (0) 411 757 668
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries