Reporters without Borders (RSF - Reporters Sans Frontières), an international press freedom watchdog, has addressed a protest letter to the Nepalese Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba following the arrest of Anuradha Paudyal, a journalist with the Katmandu-based Space Time Daily. Robert Ménard, RSF General Secretary, said: "Anuradha Paudyal has been arrested in a manner unworthy of a democracy, which confirms our fears of a new crackdown on press freedom by security forces, exploiting impunity afforded by the recently imposed state of emergency." RSF has called for the journalist’s immediate release.
Anuradha Paudyal, a health and environment reporter with the independent Space Time Daily was arrested on 19 January 2002 at her home in Katmandu, according to information obtained by RSF. A group of police and military officers searched her house for two hours without a warrant. They confiscated her books and two pairs of binoculars used by her husband for bird watching. Anuradha Paudyal’s husband, himself a journalist, told RSF that his wife was blindfolded before being thrown into a police van. He added that their four-year-old son has had trouble sleeping since his mother’s arrest and wants her back. The authorities have given no information regarding her whereabouts, let alone the reasons for her arrest.
RSF has called on the Prime Minister to respond to the demands of Nepalese lawyers that the other 24 jailed journalists be produced in the court, echoing a campaign for their release organised by their families. Without taking a stand on the ideas and the organisations supported by some detained journalists, the rejection of these demands by the authorities and their use of the anti-terror law against journalists loyal to the Maoist party was a matter of concern, said RSF.
The organisation has obtained information on the 24 media professionals currently in jail. Those are:
Govinda Acharya, Khil Bahadur Bhandari, Dipak Sapkota, Dipendra Rokaya and Rambhakta Maharjan, respectively, editor-in-chief, director, journalist, deputy editor and inputter with the weekly Janadesh, all arrested on 26 November 2001:
Ishwor Chandra Gyawali, Manarishi Dhital and Nim Bahadur Budhatoki, respectively, director of publication, employee and news inputter of the Disabodh magazine, arrested on 26 November 2001;
Om Sharma and Dipak Mainali, respectively editor-in-chief and inputter of the daily Janadisha, arrested on 26 November 2001;
Basant Pokhrel, journalist with the daily Jana Sangharsha, arrested on 29 November 2001 in Butwal;
Sitaram Shaha and Pawan Shreshta, journalists with the daily Janakpur Awaj, arrested in Janakpour (central Nepal), on 29 November 2001;
Amar Budha, of the weekly Yojana, arrested in April 1999. He is believed to be detained at the Gaighat prison;
Chandra Man Shrestha, director of publication of the daily Janadisha, apprehended on 26 December 2001, after being tracked down for weeks;
Badri Prasad Sharma, editor of the weekly Baglung in Besishar (western Nepal), arrested on 26 December 2001;
Bishnu Khanal and Liladhar Gautam, reporters with Surkhet Post journal, Surkhet (western Nepal), arrested on 29 November 2001;
Gurudatta Gyawali, a journalist with Lumbini Daily in Rupendehi (western Nepal), arrested on 29 November 2001;
Bijay Raj Acharya, a journalist from Sirjanshil Prakashan, arrested on 9 January 2002;
Prem Bahadur Diyali, reporter with the Blast Times journal in Dharan (Sunrasi province, eastern Nepal), arrested on 20 December 2001;
Baikuntha Dahal, a freelance journalist in Udaypur (western Nepal), arrested on 29 November 2001;
Kamal Mishra, a freelance journalist in Jhapa (eastern Nepal), arrested on 5 January 2002;
Hari Baral, a journalist with the weekly Bijayapur in Dharan, arrested on 3 January 2002;
Many journalists currently underground, are actively subjected to a witch-hunt by the Police:
Bhabani Baral, a journalist with the weekly Bijayapur in Dharan;
K. B. Mashal, a freelance journalist in Dang (western Nepal);
Kishor Shrestha, editor-in-chief of the weekly Jana Aastha in Katmandu;
Prakash Adhikari, editor of the weekly Deshantar in Katmandu.
The Federation of Nepalese Journalists has recently set up a Committee whose task is to monitor press freedom violations as well as the arrests by security forces of media professionals.
Since the declaration of a state of emergency by the King of Nepal on 26 November, every fundamental right, including freedom of opinion and of expression, as well as the right to information has been suspended. By virtue of the dispositions that it has put in place, every person suspected of supporting Maoists rebels - even indirectly - will be brought to book. Moreover, any information to be published that is related to the conflict with Maoist guerilla movement has to be checked by the army.