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Nepal 10 February 2005

Crackdown on press freedom could put 1,000 journalists out of work

The military today banned two newspapers based in the western town of Dang, Yugbodh (a daily) and Gaunghar (a weekly). In eastern Nepal, the Blast Times Daily was prevented from publishing. The weekly Budhabar was only able to bring out a four-page issue with a space on the front page where an article was censored.

The editors of the weekly Hank decided not to bring out an issue because of the censorship imposed by the army. Following a police raid on the Nepal Chhapakhana printing works in the capital, four weeklies - Taja Khabar, Punarjagaran, Rashtriya Samata and Yugsambad - were unable to publish yesterday.

Most of the military personnel have been withdrawn from newspaper offices but the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) said they had been replaced by many plain-clothes police and intelligence officers.

The state-owned Radio Nepal said FNJ secretary-general Bishnu Nisthuri would possibly be detained for three months at the Singh Durbar police station under the peace and security law. Most of members of the FNJ leaders are still in hiding.


The Nepalese army is continuing to prevent privately-owned newspapers from appearing normally while around 1,000 journalists, especially those working for the dozens of FM radio stations, could lose their jobs as a result of the crackdown on the news media imposed by the king on 1 February, Reporters Without Borders warned today.

The press freedom organization said it was horrified by the impact of the six-month ban on all independent news and information. "The abusive use of the press law is a clear violation of the international undertakings given by Nepal, which has ratified the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," it said.

The daily Kathmandu Post reported that about 1,000 journalists have had to stop work and could lose their jobs. Nepal has a total of 41 FM stations employing hundreds of journalists and technicians. Stations such as Hits FM and FM Adhyatma Jyoti each have more than 10 reporters. And the biggest stations, such as Kantipur FM, have at least 90 correspondents throughout the country.

Some stations such as Kantipur FM and Annapurna FM, which is based in the central town of Pokhara, have already been forced to lay off journalists, while the audio news agency Communication Corner, which distributed programmes to some 14 radio stations, has had to close.

The government previously banned news programmes on FM radio stations in January 2001, but the supreme court quashed the order in July of the same year.

After communications were reestablished yesterday, fresh reports circulated about the devastating effect of the king’s 1 February coup d’etat on press freedom. The army is continuing to close newspapers. On the evening of 7 February, for example, soldiers raided four weekly newspapers in the capital to prevent them coming out. A radio journalist quoted on the BBC News website spoke of "psychological terror" being employed by the army against the news media.

A military officer is running the weekly Janaastha. The weeklies Taza Khabar, Samata, Punarjagaran, Drishti and Yugsambad have all reportedly been closed or are under the army’s direct control.

Voice of America quoted Rajendra Dahal, the editor of a bi-monthly published by the Himal Media press group, as saying, "if our censorship or self-censorship is not sufficient in the eyes of the authorities, we are threatened, accused or arrested." As an ironic protest against the censorship, Himal Media’s publications have run editorials on archery and classical dance.

The news website is online again after being blocked for a week but is "publishing no news going against the letter or spirt of the royal proclamation." The site said its "international coverage" section has also been suspended. The army has meanwhile asked 30 ISPs to be more effective in their blocking of Maoist sites based abroad.

The family of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) president Tara Nath Dahal is still being harassed by the army. Most members of the FNJ leadership, including Gopal Budhathoki, are in hiding. As a protest against the censorship, Budhathoki earlier this week brought out the weekly Sanghu, which he edits, with a blank editorial page.

Many Nepalese human rights activists known for defending imprisoned journalists have been arrested, threatened or placed under house arrest. Reporters Without Borders is particularly concerned about Subodh Raj Pyakurel and the entire team of INSEC, an NGO with which Reporters Without Borders issued a report about torture and arbitrary detention in Nepal in November 2002.

In this country
30 April - Nepal
Radio station threatened by Maoists
8 February - Nepal
Nepalese media in great danger, International Press Freedom Mission finds
14 January - Nepal
Four arrested for woman journalist’s murder, while clandestine group claims responsibility
12 January - Nepal
Journalist and women’s rights activist brutally murdered
23 December - Nepal
Militant maoists continue their attacks against the media

in the annual report
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