At around 3 p.m. today, police released the 49 journalists who were detained while demonstrating yesterday in Kathmandu’s Ratna Park, which has been declared out of bounds for protesters. Reporters Without Borders reiterated its support for the demonstrations by Nepalese journalists to demand the restoration of press freedom.
"No explanation was provided by the police to justify these arrests," said Binod Dhungel, a member of the Federation of Nepalese journalists (FNJ) and former employee of the radio news agency Communication Corner, who was held at the Kamalpokhari police station with 11 other journalists. Some of them were put in a cell with suspected criminal offenders.
When another demonstration was held this morning in the southwestern town of Nepalgunj, police detained all the participants, about 30 journalists, and took them to the police station. Among the FNJ members held were Prem K.C., the correspondent of Nepal Television, Jhalak Gaire of the daily Kaalprishtha and Jaya Narayan Shah of the weekly Bimarsh. They were all released a few hours later.
Sources said the authorities were on the point of issuing formal arrest warrants for some of the journalists detained in Kathmandu, which could have resulted in their being kept in custody for three months. But the authorities were said to have desisted for fear of triggering more protests in Nepal and abroad.
New waves of arrests of protesting journalists
Police detained more than 100 journalists today with an accompanying sharp increase in violence, confirming that indiscriminate arrests of large numbers of journalists is becoming the standard response to peaceful demonstrations calling for the restoration of press freedom, Reporters Without Borders said.
"The authorities are clearly stepping up their crackdown, using large numbers of well-organised anti-riot and plain-clothes police," the press freedom organisation said with alarm. "The way these protests are being crushed shows the authorities are ready to use brute force against those who want democracy."
The first wave of arrests today came when a peaceful protest to demand press freedom was held this morning at Banepa, in the Kathmandu suburb of Kavre. Launched by the Kavre branch of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), the demonstration was dispersed by baton-wielding police when participants tried to enter an area declared out of bounds for protesters.
Around 40 journalists, jurists, intellectuals and other activists were arrested and held for more than six hours. They included the president of the FNJ’s Kavre branch, Ishwori Ojha, its former president, Bhojraj Timilsina, and Kavre Times editor R. L. Shramjivi.
In a show of solidarity with their Kavre colleagues, FNJ members then took to the streets in the centre of Kathmandu to denounce all the press freedom violations since King Gyanendra assumed full powers on 1 February. They were beaten with batons when their entered the area adjoining the royal palace where demonstrations are forbidden.
A total of 49 of the protesters were bundled into public buses that had been requisitioned by the police and were taken off to three different police stations in the capital.
Twenty-three journalists were still being held at the end of the day at the Janasewa police station, including FNJ president Bishnu Nithuri and FNJ secretary Balaram Baniya. Fifteen were being held at the Singha Durbar police station, including FNJ general secretary Mahendra Bista. And 11 others were being held at the Kamalpokhari police station, including FNJ member Binod Dhungel, who used to work for the Communication Corner radio news agency.