Reporters Without Borders today condemned the action of the Nepalese government in blocking access to the www.gorkhanews.com website on 9 September. Everest World Limited, which edits the site, said it had been censored because of “its stand against the curbs on the Nepalese press since 1 February.” The site gets its name from Nepal’s Gurkha people, who for generations have been recruited into an elite British army brigade.
Since 1 February, most of Nepal’s 16 Internet Service Providers have sporadically blocked access to more than a dozen news websites, such as www.samudaya.org and www.insn.org on 30 June.
Royal Army launches offensive in cyberspace
Reporters Without Borders expressed concern at an escalation in violations of freedom of expression on the Internet by the Nepalese army, under the control of King Gyanendra since 1st February 2005.
Websites have been blocked, bloggers threatened, discussion forums closed and emails increasingly put under surveillance.
"Direct and indirect censorship imposed by King Gyanendra in February 2005 has made freedom of expression on the Internet all the more crucial. But the army and the government have extended their crackdown into Nepal’s cyberspace," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. "We call for the end to blocking of websites and the authorities’ constant harassment of service providers".
Some 300,000 people use the Internet in Nepal and more than a dozen news sites set up by Nepal’s civil society or by the Nepalese community abroad have been blocked by service providers. The most recent, www.samudaya.org and www.insn.org, were made inaccessible, on 30 June 2005, by a majority of Nepal’s 16 providers, an error message appearing each time the URL is typed in for one of these sites.
A military spokesman confirmed that these sites had been blocked at a press conference in Kathmandu but said they had been accused of working for the "terrorists".
A journalist on the daily Kantipur said however that the military authorities were angry that samudaya.org used familiar vocabulary to refer to the king and the highest government authorities. For their part, those who run samudaya.org deny that they support the Maoists. "If the ministry believes that we have supported the Maoists, we request the ministry to point out where, when and how", the website’s directors said in a statement.
Insn.org was apparently targeted for posting Maoist releases, but its presenters also deny favouring the rebels. "We post releases from the Maoists just as we post the king’s speeches and even an army video," said one of the presenters.
"We have never been warned by the army or service providers. There is no legal basis for the ban against us, since there is no specific law on the Internet," one of the journalists from insn.org added.
Around a dozen of the 23 news sites that have been blocked are linked to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), including http://www.cpnm.org and http://krishnasenonline.org, and which put out appeals for armed violence posted by "journalist combatants".
Following the February coup, the authorities ordered the closure of a very popular discussion forum on the site Nepalnews.com. In the following weeks, the presenters of a blog United We Blog were summoned by a military officer and reminded about their responsibilities for the contents of the blog. One of the presenters confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that the army Directorate of Public Relations (DPR), headed by General Depak Gurung, was taking more and more interest in activities on the Internet. Further, the DPR fait regularly puts pressure on journalists to influence their coverage of the conflict and to control content on sites dealing with Nepal by ensuring they put out armed forces communiqués.
A technician at one of the kingdom’s major service providers, Mercantile, confirmed to Reporters Without Borders that the authorities were threatening to withdraw licences of service providers unless they obeyed the blocking orders. He also confirmed that teams from the royal army and the Nepal Telecomunications Authority (NTA) recently visited service providers’ offices to check the servers.
Other local sources told the organisation that the authorities had already forced some providers to install software to filter email. For this reason, in May, Mercantile stopped handling customers’ emails for more than 48 hours for technical reasons. Since then some customers realised that emails dealing with Maoists were no longer arriving. Mercantile has not confirmed that he filters have been installed.