Reporters Without Borders today condemned the presence of large numbers of security personnel inside the offices of newspapers in Kathmandu and the prior control they are exercising over news reports.
The press freedom organization also requested the release of detained journalists and an end to the harassment of the families of those journalists who have gone into hiding to avoid arrest.
After banning the publication of any criticism for six months, the royal palace today issued a new series of directives banning negative reports about the security forces under pain of imprisonment or house arrest. The military have also been granted the authority to monitor and ban any communication as part of the state of emergency.
Despite certain concessions that should allow provincial newspapers to resume publishing, the army is continuing to impose drastic measures on the press.
The secretary-general of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), Bishnu Nisthuri, was arrested at his home in Kathmandu on 4 February while police have taken up position around the FNJ’s office in the capital.
But contrary to earlier reports, neither FNJ president Tara Nath Dahal nor K. C. Netra, the BBC World Service’s correspondent in the southwestern town of Nepalgunj, has been arrested. Dahal’s family has, however, reportedly been harassed by the army.
Local FM re-transmission of the BBC World Service’s Nepalese-language programmes has been banned but the BBC’s English-language broadcasts are permitted. The privately-owned TV station Nepal One is still banned from broadcasting and its studios are being watched by the military. Indian cable and satellite TV stations are still unavailable.
BBC World and CNN television programmes are permitted, but they are censored whenever they refer to the situation in Nepal. Most of the independent weeklies in Kathmandu, including Budhabar, are closed.
Five dailies and a dozen weeklies have been closed in Nepalgunj but an army officer told the editors they would be able to resume publishing soon. Newspapers in the western town of Butwal have prepared an issue for today, after being closed for a week. Army officers asked journalists to publish news "honouring the spirit of the royal proclamation."
In Chitawan (southwest of Kathmandu), newspapers were also due to reappear today after negotiations with the military authorities.
The censorship has done away with all independent reporting. A Nepalese newspaper editor quoted by The Times of India said he had never seen such censorship. "One could test the limits in the past by writing something provocative but now we have received clear warnings to do nothing against the interests of the current regime," he said. Nonetheless, the Kantipur and Kathmandu Post dailies today ran editorials calling on the king to restore press freedom.
To offset the lack of news, an underground bulletin called Jana Awaj, reproducing reports from the BBC and Indian press, was being circulated in Butwal.
As a result of the enforced blackout, 28 journalists were reportedly fired by Radio Kantipur FM. Staff with the Kantipur group’s print media could also be affected.