Before he was ousted in a democratic revolution, King Gyanendra had put the very existence of the independent press under threat. Several hundred journalists were arrested, beaten up, censored or threatened by rampant security forces. The press, first in line in the fight against the monarchy, progressively regained its rights from April onwards.
Report in Nepali
RSF Report in Nepali
The democratic revolution which in April allowed the restoration of parliament, then in November, the signing of a peace agreement and historic power-sharing with the Maoists, put an end to the all out crackdown on the independent media and opposition. Until his fall, King Gyanendra, a predator of press freedom, had operated strict censorship throughout the country. The monarch who had declared himself head of government had wiped out almost all the constitutional and legal protection acquired by the independent press since 1990. In addition, more than a thousand journalists were sacked and the economic crisis provoked by the government had affected many media.
During the pro-democratic demonstrations on 1st February 2006, one year after the King’s power grab, more than 50 journalists were arrested while either taking part in or covering demonstrations organised throughout the country by the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ). Some, like Shyam Shrestha, editor of an opposition monthly, were held for several months by police under radical security laws and often in appalling conditions. Young journalist Bhawana Prasain of the monthly Majdur Aawaj, was tortured and threatened with rape by soldiers, during her detention, in February.
During the April revolution, security forces killed more than a score of civilians. The journalists, in the front line of the demonstrations, were especially targeted by the police and army. Between 5 and 10 April, nearly 100 press representatives were questioned or arrested, mostly without warrants. Reporters Without Borders also recorded at least 117 incidents in which media were attacked or injured by the security forces while covering demonstrations, a score of them suffering bullet wounds. In the vast majority of cases, reporters, who were easily identifiable, were deliberately attacked by police. In one instance, Tilak Koirala and Janak Pandit, reporters with Nepal One television were clubbed by police officers, in Kathmandu on 23 April. Five journalists were also injured in shooting, on 19 April in the Jhapa district in eastern Nepal.
In the face of this widespread popular revolt, the palace stepped up censorship. The Ministry of Information and Communications on 13 April ordered cable TV operators to stop putting out programmes from Kantipur TV (KTV) and other news channels. Several FM radio stations were also censored.
The FNJ provided remarkable leadership in the struggle for the restoration of rights confiscated by the government, both on the streets and through the courts. On 5 April, a dozen journalists, including the president and the secretary general of the FNJ, were arrested after being the first to break the curfew and ban on demonstrating imposed by the security forces throughout the country. The following day, 24 journalists including Kanak Dixit, the famous director of Himal South Asia was arrested and manhandled by police. Demonstrators chanted slogans against censorship of the press.
After the announcement of the restoration of parliament, militants attacked journalists working for the pro-government press and demonstrators vandalised the offices of Shankar Thapa, correspondent for Radio Nepal in Dipayal, western Nepal.
Once the government of Girija Prasad Koirala was in place, public freedoms were restored one by one. The Supreme Court in May annulled Article 8 of the law on radio and television and Article 15(1) of the law on publications and newspapers, which were ruled unconstitutional The government decided on 9 May, to cancel the media order, banning FM radio from broadcasting news, promulgated by the Gyanendra government. In the same way, the government quashed the anti-terror law which have been used on frequent occasions to imprison journalists. After this, the authorities went on to grant new licences to privately-owned radio and television stations and lifted censorship on all websites, which had been applied by the previous government.
The Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) in 2006 carried out fewer attacks on journalists than in previous years. Members of the central committee of CPN-M promised Reporters Without Borders in March to guarantee journalists freedom of expression and to move about freely to do their jobs. In November, the leader of the CPN-M, Prachanda, announced that his party was ending 11 years of armed struggle, after signing an agreement with democratic parties which provided for a constitutional assembly and a transitional government. Despite this, the Maoists regularly threatened the press in the regions which they control. In August, 21 people, 12 of them journalists, were held by a group of Maoists in the Bara district in the south of the country. Photographer Ram Sarraf was manhandled. In October, the correspondent for the Kantipur group and president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists in Khotang, eastern Nepal was threatened and accused of putting out false news by Maoist party cadres.
From April to December 2006, Maoist militants detained, assaulted and abusively summoned or censored at least 15 journalists. “The Maoists do not always want the press to know about their imperfections. (...) journalists are always under psychological pressure and under threat when they publish or transmit news which is critical of them,” said the FNJ.
In total, at least 245 journalists were arrested in Nepal in 2006, while 180 others were injured attacked or threatened. Finally, at least 30 media were censored and four others destroyed as a result of clashes between the army and the Maoists.