Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today at the drastic manner in which King Gyanendra and his army have wiped out the press freedom gains of the past 15 years, along with other democratic gains, since the coup d’etat on 1 February.
The state news media and ten privately-owned media have been put under direct military control. Dozens of news media have been closed in the provinces. The authorities have banned any negative reporting about the regime for six months. Dozens of journalists are pursued by the security forces, including the president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ). And foreign news media correspondents are being prevented from working freely.
"By criminalizing the right to inform and by bringing a vibrant and courageous independent press to its knees, the king is responsible for the most important setback to freedom in 15 years," Reporters Without Borders said, voicing support for the FNJ’s call for demonstrations to defend Nepalese democracy.
The press freedom organization said it urged the international community to freeze aid to the Nepalese government immediately. The aid should be conditioned on respect for basic freedoms including freedom of expression, it said.
Reporters Without Borders has identified King Gyanendra as a predator of press freedom for the past three years. He has defended the abuses which eight UN experts described as extremely serious in 2004, above all because of the increase in torture and detention in undisclosed locations. Some 400 journalists were arrested or imprisoned by the security forces in 2004.
Nepal has been cut off from the world since 1 February. The few reports getting out indicate a very severe clampdown on both state and privately-owned media. Military are in charge of censoring state TV programmes. Army officers have moved into the offices of the main privately-owned newspapers, including the daily Kantipur. The premises of the weekly Janaastha, known for criticising the monarchy, were overrun on 1 February by around 20 soldiers who sequestered the journalists there for the first 24 hours. An officer has stayed to censor reports.
Kantipur’s famous editorialist, Khagendra Sangraula, who is known for his criticism of the palace, has been detained in an army barracks in Kathmandu.
The work of the few foreign press correspondents has been blocked. The news agency Reuters said hotel owners have refused to let foreign TV crews install their satellite dishes on hotel roofs. The military police briefly detained about 10 Nepalese and foreign journalists today, confiscating equipment. They included the correspondents of the Associated Press, who were covering the arrests of some 50 Congress Party activists.
The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) said FNJ president Tara Nath Dahal had been in hiding since the security forces tried to arrest him at his home. The FNJ had condemned what it called a "coup d’etat against democracy" and called on journalists to fight with courage and determination to guarantee the right of the Nepalese people to news and information.
The IFJ said the military has imposed censorship throughout the country. All the media were closed down in the central town of Pokhara, where the army fired on a crowd of students. "You can no longer publish news, that is the responsibility of the newspapers in Kathmandu," an officer reportedly told a Pokhara journalist.
All of Nepal’s community radio stations have been closed, while the oldest community station, Radio Sagarmatha, is now controlled by the army. News programmes have been banned. The military ordered two FM radio stations and four local newspapers to close in the western district of Rupandehi.