Reporters Without Borders today condemned the seizure on 21 October of equipment from radio Kantipur FM by police acting to enforce a 9 October ordinance tightening a crackdown on the press and banning radio news broadcasts. The loss of the equipment is preventing Kantipur FM from broadcasting in 16 eastern districts of Nepal.
The press freedom organisation said it was outraged by this new police campaign against Nepal’s FM stations, which recently began broadcasting news again after an initial ban imposed in February.
“We call for the immediate return of all of Kantipur FM’s equipment so that the station can resume broadcasting throughout the country,” Reporters Without Borders said. “By attacking the radio station of the Kantipur press group, the spearhead of criticism of his government, King Gyanendra is trying to intimidate all the radio stations that refuse to be gagged.”
Three dozen policemen and technicians raided Kantipur FM’s premises in Kathmandu at around 11 p.m. on 21 October, seizing a encoder, a satellite modem and a digital recorder used to send all the programmes by satellite to an antenna in Bhedetar, from where they are relayed throughout the country’s 16 eastern districts.
A few hours before the police raid, the station was visited by information and communication ministry officials who notified the management that it was not complying with the recent ordinance which, among other things, banned radio stations from broadcasting from two different places. The station’s staff said they would need a written order to suspended broadcasting.
Kantipur FM filed a motion on 23 October with the supreme court requesting the return of its equipment and challenging the 9 October ordinance. At the same time, at a ceremony marking Kantipur FM’s seventh anniversary, Kantipur chairman Hem Raj Gyawali described the seizure as “naked robbery.”
A senior information and communication ministry official meanwhile summoned all FM radio station executives and ordered them to stop news broadcasts. Despite the threat of reprisals if they fail to comply with the ban on news broadcasts contained in the ordinance, radio station owners have so far refused to comply.
Most Nepalese radio stations observed two minutes of silence at 7 p.m. on 23 October in a show of protest against the latest developments.
Reporters Without Borders gives its full support to the commercial and community FM radio stations in their campaign against government censorship. The Save the Independent Radio Movement has been nominated for the 2005 Reporters Without Borders - Fondation de France Prize.