Reporters Without Borders today condemned the arrest of at least 59 journalists since 5 April during press freedom demonstrations that were obstructed by police in Kathmandu and other towns. It called on home minister Kamal Thapa to release the journalists still in jail, stop reprisals against the protesters and keep his promises to defend press freedom.
The organisation said the minister recently told the International Press Freedom Mission (of 15 international bodies, including Reporters Without Borders) that journalists would not be arrested or beaten during demonstrations.
Thirteen journalists were arrested on 5 April in front of the International Convention Centre in Kathmandu while demonstrating with members of the Professional Alliance for Peace and Democracy (PAPAD), which had organised the peaceful protest against the government’s 31 March ban on demonstrations.
Among those detained were Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) president Bishnu Nishturi, secretary-general Mahendra Bista and committee member Binod Pahari. The president of the South Asia Free Media Association (SAFMA), Gopal Thapaliya, was injured by police and taken to hospital. The others arrested were held at the Ward police station and then taken to the Bhrikutimandap Police Club.
A second demonstration was mounted by the FNJ a few hours later during which 24 journalists, including FNJ vice-president Shiva Gaunle, treasurer Hemanta Kafle and Kanak Dixit, editor of the magazine Himal South Asia, were arrested and held at Janasewa police station. The protesters shouted slogans against government censorship of the media. All 37 were freed later in the day, as well as the other 40 demonstrators.
Protests against the arrests occurred the next day in other towns, including Birgunj (Parsa district), where at least a dozen journalists were arrested. In the eastern town of Ilam, four were arrested while reporting on pro-democracy demonstrations by the country’s seven main political parties. They were freed several hours later.
Ten journalists were arrested in different parts of the country on 7 April during demonstrations or while they were reporting and have not yet been released. Madhav Basnet, correspondent for Dristi Weekly, was beaten by police in Kathmandu while covering pro-democracy meetings.
A vehicle belonging to the Himalayan Times was attacked in Bhaktapour on 6 April and other media vehicles were attacked.