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Nepal 15 November 2002

Report about torture and arbitrary detention

Nepal’s civil war has intensified since a truce was broken by the Maoists and a state of emergency was imposed in November 2001. The clashes between government forces (army, police and paramilitaries) and Maoist rebels have reached an unprecedented level of violence. With the king’s support, the government has declared war on "Maoist terrorism" while the rebels have relaunched their "people’s war." At least 4,930 people died in this renewed violence between 26 November 2001 and 2 November 2002, according to the Nepalese human rights organisation INSEC (Informal Sector Service Centre). More than 3,960 were killed by the security forces.

In September 2002, a fact-finding mission conducted jointly by Reporters Without Borders/Damocles Network and INSEC confirmed that civilians, including journalists and human rights defenders, have been hit hard by the state of emergency and people’s war. "The civilian population, especially the poorest, are caught in the crossfire between soldiers and Maoists," INSEC general secretary Subodh Raj Pyakurel said. The testimony gathered by the mission confirmed that both sides are committing serious human rights violations. The Maoists attack civilians they accuse of supporting the state. They torture, mutilate and conduct summary executions, spreading a reign of terror. The army and police for their part are guilty of summary executions, the most serious forms of torture, and arbitrary detention. These human rights violations are carried out with complete impunity and violate Nepal’s laws and core international human rights treaties that have been signed and ratified by Nepal.

Lokendra Bahadur Chand, the new prime minister appointed by the king, stated on 19 October that he wished to seek and negotiated and political way out of the conflict with the Maoists. But the road to peace is likely to be long.

Reporters Without Borders and INSEC call on the United Nations, in particular UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello, to respond to the gravity of the situation in Nepal by sending a fact-finding mission there as soon as possible and by intervening with both sides to request that the rights of the civilian population be respected.

Human rights violations by the Maoists

"If they wanted to kill them, they could just put a bullet in their head. But instead, they prefer to break their arms or legs and leave them paralysed for life. To prolong their suffering."This was the comment of Dr. Suresh Kanodia, the director of a private hospital in the southwestern city of Nepalgunj, who has treated several of the Maoists’s victims. "Torture and mutilation are the basis of the terror imposed by the Maoists in certain parts of the country," said Subodh Raj Pyakurel of INSEC. Dozens of cases have been registered by human rights organisations. "Their torture destroys families. The man becomes useless and, above all, his injuries remind the other villagers that they should not oppose the Maoists," another Nepalgunj doctor said.

The fact-finding mission took the testimonies of eight persons in Nepalgunj who have been attacked by Maoist rebels. Dr. Jean Rivolet, a Damocles Network medical expert, examined the victims and confirmed the seriousness of their injuries.

1. Khadak Bahadur Budha, 30,was attacked in his home in February 2002. After accusing him of having called on Maoists militants to surrender to the police, rebels tied his hands behind his back, dragged him outside, forced him to lie down with his legs over a stone, and used sticks to beat both legs. He was found unconscious, his hands still bound, apparently left for dead by the Maoists. Dr. Rivolet confirmed multiple, splintered fractures on the upper third of the left tibia and lower third of its outer condyle, and fractures on the upper third of the right fibula. The blows had also left scars on the victim’s arms, head and chest. Bahadur is currently been treated at Nepalgunj? main hospital at the Nepalese government’s expense. His family has had to leave their village. Dr. Rivolet said these fractures were the result of very violent blows and that the victim would never recover the use of his legs.

2. Gir Bahadur, a farmer from Jamunia (Bardia district), has been in hospital since August as a result of being interrogated and tortured at night by a group of Maoists who accused him of being "the government spy" in his village. He has lost his hearing in his left ear, and he has a wound on his forehead, temporal-maxillary trauma on the left side, and rib cage trauma from being kicked in the chest. He and his family do not want to go back to their village for fear of further reprisals.

3. Tikaram Rana, 26, from the village of Kunathari (Surkhet district), sustained fractures to the legs and a kneecap when tortured in June by Maoists who accused him of being an "army spy." Dr. Rivolet found a clean break in the right leg, and a splintered fracture of the left leg that will have irreversible consequences. The Maoists placed his leg on a stone and struck it violently with the back of an axe.

4. Ram Kumar Yadab is from Akalgharwa, a village in Bankey district that was briefly occupied by Maoist rebels in the second week of July although only about 10 kms from Nepalgunj, the country’s second largest military garrison. After summoning the inhabitants from their homes, the rebels selected a dozen young men. Some were shot dead. Yadab and three others were tortured and mutilated in the main square. Yadab’s legs were beaten with the back of an axe. Dr. Rivolet found multiple factures on both of his legs, above the knees. Jagadish Prasad Yadav, 35, was kicked in the head and sustained similar leg fractures as a result of which he has undergone several operations and has a plate in his right leg. He had a further operation because of a bone infection. Inder Prasad Yadav, 18, was also beaten with the back of an axe on his left leg, sustaining injuries that became gangrenous with the result that his leg had to be amputated.

Dr. Rivolet was concerned by the post-traumatic condition of these Akalgharwa victims, who told the mission they did not know why the Maoists had mutilated them.

The Maoists target "journalist spies"

The mutilated body of Nawaraj "Basant" Sharma was found on 13 August near the village of Suna in the western province of Karnali. According to a local journalist questioned by Reporters Without Borders, armed men kidnapped Sharma on 1 June from his home in Kalikot district. Identified as Maoist rebels, his kidnappers cut off his limbs, cut out his eyes and finally shot him in the chest. Since then, the rebels have been threatening his relatives and have prevented them from going to Kathmandu to collect the aid which the government gives to the families of the rebels’ victims. Sharma was the founder and editor of the weekly newspaper Karnali Sandesh (Karnali Message), since 1999 the only independent news media in the far west, Nepal’s poorest region. He was also president of the local branch of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) and the director of Kalikot school. He had previously been kidnapped by a Maoist group in February and held for nearly three months. Following his release in May, he was interrogated by the security forces for five days on suspicion of being a spy for the Maoists.

Two other journalists have been kidnapped by the Maoists and one is still being held. Dhana Bahadur Rokka Magar, 33, a news presenter for state-owned Radio Nepal’s programme Kham (in the Magar language), was kidnapped on 1 August on the road from the Jaluke region to the town of Surkhet (in the west of the country). He was travelling in a bus that was stopped by Maoist rebels. They made him get out and go with them. At least five other passengers including an employee of the Gorkha Welfare Trust, a British NGO, were also abducted. In early September, the Maoists told other journalists that Magar was still alive and was being held in one of their camps. He is accused of being a government spy. According to some sources, Magar’s father was killed by the Maoists.

Demling Lama, correspondent of Radio Nepal and the Himalaya Times national daily in the Sindhupalchok district (north-east of Kathmandu), was asleep in his home in Dhuskot on the night of 5 April when armed rebels burst in and took him away. He succeeded in escaping from his captors four days later and told an FNJ representative that they had beaten him.

Human rights violations by the security forces

a. Arbitrary detention

The security forces arrested several thousand persons suspected of being Maoist militants or sympathizers during the state of emergency that was in effect from November 2001 to August 2002. These arrests were carried out in an entirely unlawful manner and both suspects and their families were rarely given any official explanation.

All sectors of the population were affected by the arrests, including more than 300 journalists. At least 10 journalists were tortured. Twenty-six journalists are still held in violation of judicial procedures. The detainees were not taken before a judge and the deadlines for their release (90 days under the anti-terrorist law) were not respected. The judicial authorities have remained silent, and have failed to defend the rights of the detainees. Acts of torture have been committed by both army personnel and police. The information presented below does not cover all of these violations and is given just as an illustration.

More than 150 journalists arrested and detained illegally

The interior ministry recognized for the first time on 4 September that 16 journalists were being detained in Nepal. This belated admission came as result of considerable mobilisation by journalist organisations, especially the FNJ. Nonetheless, it was only a partial admission. At the time of writing this report, at least 21 journalists and news media assistants were detained in Nepal. Most of them have been held for more than six months without the authorities initiating any form of judicial proceedings.

On 5 November, Ishwor Chandra Gyawali (editor), Manarishi Dhital (office worker) of the pro-Maoist monthly Dishabodh, Deepak Sapkota (reporter), Dipendra Rokaya (editorial assistant), Dhana Bahadur Thapa Magar (photographer), all of the pro-Maoist weekly Janadesh, and Mina Sharma, editor of the monthly Aikyabaddata (Solidarity), were released by the government. Ram Bhakta Maharjan, a keyboard operator on the weekly Janadesh, was freed the previous day. This decision is due to a strong mobilisation of the FNJ.

Jana Astha editor Kishor Shrestha was arrested twice during the state of emergency. The first time, he was arrested by the army in January over an article about the army chief of staff’s son. The second time was on 4 August, when police burst into Jana Ashta’s offices and took him to a police station in the city. Eight police officers, including a Superintendent Khanal and an Inspector Mainali, interrogated him for nearly two hours. They did not hit him, but one officer made as if to hit him and another spat on him. Finally, he was placed in a 4-by-3-metre cell which had no electricity and was already holding 20 others. He estimates that around 300 persons, most of them suspected Maoists, were being held in the police station. The guards were strict, and Shrestha was transferred three times to another cell for talking to fellow detainees.

Jana Astha journalists Ambika Niraula and Dev Ram Prasad Yadav are still held by the security forces. After Niraula was arrested in January in Rajbiraj Saptari, the district administrator contacted his father to propose that he surrender his other son, a Maoist student leader, to the authorities in exchange for Niraula’s release. Jana Astha editor Shrestha went to see the then interior minister in July in an attempt to obtain the release of his two reporters. In his presence, the minister telephoned the government representatives in the districts where they are held in an attempt to find a solution to their prolonged detention. Despite the promises made, the two have not yet been released.

Shrestha believes the security forces resent the fact that the two journalists reported the public demonstrations held by the Maoist rebels at the time that negotiations were under way between them and the government. "They are being held just for having covered the Maoists’ activities as journalists. Before the fighting resumed, these activities were fully authorised."

According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, 21 journalists are still being held in Nepal, which makes it the world’s biggest prison for the press. Most of the detained journalists are being held for having worked for pro-Maoist or other far-left publications or for having covered the activities of the Maoist rebels. After several months of their being held in secret and subject to physical mistreatment, conditions of detention improved, especially for those in Kathmandu’s central prison. Journalist Om Sharma, for example, now receives regular visits from his wife. She told the mission: "He is in good health and his morale is high, but he cannot say much because a guard is always present when we meet." Sharma is currently held in a cell with 11 other journalists.

Examples of arbitrary detention in the Nepalgunj region

During a field visit to the Nepalgunj region, Reporters Without Borders and INSEC obtained information on a dozen cases of arbitrary arrest by the security forces, especially the army. In all these cases, the suspects were never informed in writing why they had been arrested. Their conditions of detention were harsh but they were not subject to severe forms of torture.

1. Jitendra Mahaseth is the director of a private hospital in Nepalgunj. The army arrested him on 16 December 2001 on suspicion of having treated Maoists without reporting their presence to the authorities. He spent 21 days in the Chisapani barracks, a few kilometres from Nepalgunj. He told the mission he had not been mistreated but had never received any document from the security forces, which constitutes arbitrary detention. Since then, he has had to present himself at an army post every day and submit to questioning. He must also note the names and descriptions of all the patients he admits to his hospital. If any of them could be a Maoist or sympathiser who was wounded in a clash, he must alert the police under threat of further punishment. He has also been warned that old charges against him, dating back to 1985, could be revived if he does not cooperate with the security forces. At that time, he spent 13 months in prison because of his pro-democracy activities.

2. In Banai Bhar village (Banke district), Dhania Chowdhury, 24, described how soldiers detained her husband Phul Raj Chowdhury on 13 August. "More than a dozen soldiers surrounded our house. Some came in, arrested my husband, calling him a Maoist, and searched the house. The soldiers grabbed me by the hair, dragged me into the bedroom and told me they would let my husband go if I agreed to have sex with them. I refused. They searched the bedroom and left with him." The mother of two children aged three and six, she has not dared ask news of her husband at the Chisapani military camp. She assumes he was arrested on the basis of someone’s denunciation. "We gave food to Maoists two or three times, but we were forced to do so. We are poor peasants, not rebels."

Before leaving the village, the soldiers beat a 69-year-old resident known as Bharthari Chaudhari, who was examined by Dr. Rivolet a week after the events. He diagnosed the after-effects of shoulder bruising and a bruise to the back of the head. The soldiers also arrested Raj Bahadur Tharu, whom they accused of being a Maoist and of possessing arms. His wife, Rupa Tharu, the mother of a five-year-old boy, has had no news of him since his arrest. His father Khusiram Tharu was also beaten during the army raid. He testified that two soldiers stood on his back while a third struck him. He was unable to move for two days, and still complains of lumbar pans. Dr. Rivolet found scars and multiple bruising on the chest and lower back, as well as open sores on the back.

3. Puspa Raj Lamechhne, 42, was detained arbitrarily for 20 days in the Chisapani barracks after being arrested in March in his village, Gabar, near Naubasta VDC-7. He was probably denounced by another person arrested by the army. He acknowledged having giving food to Maoists, but said he was forced to do so. He was held in a small cell with a dozen other suspects, mostly peasants and students. His wife was never allowed to visit him during his detention. Since his release, he has had to report once a week to the barracks, where soldiers question him about his activities.

Another incident took place in the village of Gabar at the beginning of July. Three villagers were returning home from their fields at night when they were stopped by a military patrol. Two of them fled, but the third, Rajaram Tharu, who is handicapped, was unable to hide. The two who escaped heard the soldiers fire two or three shots. Thereafter, Tharu’s wife has received no word of him and his body has not been found. The day after this incident, soldiers went to the home of one of the two who had fled, Ram Prasad Tharu, 20. They arrested him and took him to the Chisapani barracks, where he was beaten with a bamboo stick during interrogation. He was released the same day.

In this village alone (which has 700 inhabitants), a total of four civilians have been arrested since the state of emergency was declared, and a fifth has disappeared.

4. Bhagwathi Prasad Chowdhari, 24, from the village of Chapargauthii (Kohalpur VDC-4), was arrested on 8 June when soldiers came looking for two other young villagers who went underground a few years ago. Accusing him of being a Maoist and of harbouring a network, they tied his hands behind his back and blindfolded him. They held him for 48 hours in the Chisapani military camp, keeping him blindfolded except when he ate or went to the toilet. He also had to remain with his hands tied behind his back. Officers slapped him in the face during interrogation sessions. All the detainees in his cell were hooded, and none of them dared speak for fear of being caught by the guards. Before releasing him, the soldiers told him they no longer thought he was a Maoist. Chowdhury claims that his vision has deteriorated since then. Dr. Rivolet found that he was very anxious about the idea of being rearrested.

In the city of Nepalgunj alone INSEC has registered more than 200 arrests of civilians suspected of being Maoist activists or sympathisers. The overwhelming majority never received any official record of their detention. Furthermore, in almost all cases, the security forces require former detainees to regularly present themselves to a police post although they have not been charged. In the district of Rolpa, for example, at least 200 teachers must present themselves at least once a week to the security forces based in the main towns. For some of these teachers, this entails a round trip of several days. Finally, INSEC has registered no instance of the authorities initiating judicial proceedings against suspected Maoists in this region, although some of them have been held since the start of the state of emergency, that is to say, nine months.

b. Use of torture by the security forces

In the course of this fact-finding mission, Reporters Without Borders had access to a series of documents (photographs and testimonies) on cases of torture of suspected Maoists by the army and police.

Several of these suspects died under torture. Kancha Dangol, a Congress Party activist in Tokha (Kathmandu district) who was mistakenly accused of being a Maoist, was tortured to death in March 2002. From photographs of her body, Dr. Rivolet was able to identify very large bruises that would have been caused by a blunt object such as a bat or a bar. He also identified pubic bruising, an oedema of the tongue and a nose fracture.

Photographs of other victims showed various forms of torture: burns on the arms and legs, open head wounds with rupturing of the cranium, the marks of blows with metal objects, and large bruises to the forehead and temples. A doctor questioned by the mission said examination of individuals interrogated by the security forces had shown clears signs of such torture as repeated violent blows to the soles of the feet; forced submersion in water; electric shocks (especially to the genitals); and simultaneous blows to both sides of the head, causing partial deafness and sensory disorientation.

Kathmandu-based organisations that defend human rights and assist victims told the mission they had received more than 100 torture victims since the start of the state of emergency. The situation of detainees in the police stations has improved slightly since June. Under national and international pressure, the government also created a unit within the army with responsibility for human rights in August. But army personnel suspected of violating basic human rights have not been subject to any sanctions.

Nepal has nonetheless ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which entered into force in June 1987. Article 2 of this convention states that, "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture." Each state that is a party to the convention is also required to "ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law." Reporters Without Borders and INSEC therefore call on the UN Committee against Torture to act quickly to obtain explanations from the Nepalese government about the information contained in this report.

Press victims of torture

The lifting of the state of emergency in August 2002 and the significant fall in the number of journalists arrested during July and August are encouraging signs for the defenders of press freedom in Nepal. But the death of Krishna Sen, the editor of a pro-Maoist publication, while in detention in May says a lot about the treatment reserved for opposition journalists and journalists who for whatever reason are suspected of links with the Maoist rebellion.

Reporters Without Borders and Damocles Network concluded in a report published on 15 October that Sen probably died under torture on 28 May, eight days after his arrest, in an interrogation room of the Mahendra Police Club in Kathmandu. Among those thought to have been present at his death was Police Officer Bikram Singh Thapa, who was awarded the title of best officer of the year in October.

The mission obtained the testimony of two journalists who were tortured while in detention. In the first case, the journalist was subjected to a violent interrogation with intermittent beatings. In the second case, the torture did not consist of physical violence. Kept blindfolded for 24 days, the journalist had to endure severe psychological torture.

The case of Rewati Sapkota

A young journalist with the Nepalese-language Rajhdhani Daily, Rewati Sapkota was arrested at his home in Kathmandu on 24 May by Police Inspector Kamal Manandhar. Police interrogated him for four nights and five days about other journalists and human rights activists, torturing him repeatedly. He told Reporters Without Borders: "my hands were tied with a piece of cord. So were my feet. I was blindfolded so that I couldn’t see my torturers. They would hit me very hard with bamboo sticks. They often laid me in the sun. Two policemen wearing boots would stand on my knees while another beat my legs or my feet. I couldn’t even cry out because I had a gag over my mouth (...) They only stopped torturing me when I fainted." Sapkota shared a small, dirty cell with a dozen other persons. "All the detainees had bruises from where they had been hit," he said.

Sapkota was finally released thanks to international pressure and pressure from the Nepalese Federation of Journalists. Back at home, he had to recover in bed and could not walk for a week. After his release, he was obliged to go to the police post twice a week and each time answer a series of questions about his activities. Nowadays, Sapkota has to go to the police station once a month. "Four months after my arrest, I still have pains in my feet, nightmares, and the fear of being arrested again and dying," said Sapkota, who as a journalist specializes in scientific subjects. "Worst of all, I don’t have any paper saying I was arrested." Sapkota has no visible after-effects from the torture, but Dr. Rivolet noted pains in the knees, calves and soles of his feet and detected post-traumatic disorder.

The case of Gopal Bhudhatokhi

The editor of the weekly Sanghu, Gopal Bhudhatokhi has been arrested twice since the declaration of the state of emergency in November 2001. The first time, on 17 December 2001, about 50 police officers surrounded his home in Kathmandu and took him to the city’s main police station. He was held for more than 12 hours without food and water, and any blanket. Army officers interrogated him while he was blindfolded, questioning him about a cartoon that ran on the newspaper’s front page showing two persons asking what country Nepal could go to in order to buy arms. The officers also criticised the publication of an article by a political leader about the population’s loss of confidence in the royal family. Before releasing him, the army officers threatened him with reprisals if he published any more articles on the army or royal family.

The second time was on 3 March, as he was leaving his office in the centre of Kathmandu. He had just completed the latest issue of the weekly and was going home by motorcycle. He had suspected that he was being followed all week. About 100 metres from his office, his way was blocked by a small truck and three motorcycles. A dozen individuals surrounded him and told him to go with them. "We are the army. Our officer wants to talk to you." He was driven away in the back of the truck with his face covered and his hands tied behind his back. About an hour later he was placed in an cell with no ventilation and no light, and was kept in isolation, with his head hooded and his hands bound, for the next 24 days. He was allowed to remove the hood only when he ate or went to the toilet.

The isolation plunged Bhudhatokhi into a "deep depression." This is how he described the anxiety he suffered during his detention: "All the time, I was afraid I would go mad (...) I spent all day being frustrated. I’d become a nothing. No more telephone. No more contact with my wife and friends. Nothing (...) All the noises terrified me. The sound of the soldiers’ boots or the screams of the other detainees." He was not beaten during interrogation but he regards the treatment he received as "the worst of tortures." During the interrogation sessions, which were every day at first, the officers took him to task over an article on 23 February criticising the army chief of staff. "Why don’t journalists like you support the army," they asked.

Budhatokhi was released on 25 March as a result of national and international pressure. Since then he has had back and lower-back pain and discomfort in certain positions, and says his memory has been affected. "I have avoided going mad, but I have the impression that my brain is running at half speed." Dr. Rivolet thought he was suffering from anxiety as a reaction to the torture.

Difficulties of covering the human rights situation

The slight improvement in the situation of press freedom seen in August and September is due to the lifting of the state of emergency and an unprecedented mobilisation by the Federation of Nepalese Journalists. The protests culminated with a collective hunger strike. At that point, the government agreed to establish an independent judicial commission to investigate violations of press freedom during the state of emergency. Made up of a former judge, a government representative, a security expert, a media expert and an FNJ representative, the commission is supposed to look into arrests, tortures and other abuses suffered by journalists.

The FNJ for its part has established a monitoring committee to register all violations of press freedom. This committee has documented 136 cases of arrests of journalists by the security forces.

The lifting of the state of emergency has been an encouraging sign for the process of restoringthe rule of law and the press has taken advantage of the new situation. The daily Kathmandu Post, for example, published a front-page interview with one of the Maoist chiefs in the Kathmandu valley on 5 September. One of the article’s authors, Kosmos Biswokarma, discussed it with Reporters Without Borders. "It would have been hard to publish this article during the state of emergency. Since it came out, we have received no threats from the security forces. On the other hand, the government has felt under pressure because the Maoist chief we met demanded the resumption of negotiations."

In the same way, the government did not react to a report on extrajudicial executions by the security forces that was published in the magazine Nepali. However, human rights organisations note that the privately-owned press is reluctant to publish information on violations by the army. "Their correspondents are terrified and are prevented from confirming our reports in the field, while some editors in Kathmandu censor information that is critical of the security forces," INSEC General Secretary Subodh Raj Pyakurel said.

It continues to be difficult for Nepalese journalists to report freely on the security situation in Nepal, especially on abuses by the security forces. The mission interviewed a dozen journalists on this subject, most of them national newspaper correspondents based in Nepalgunj.

The city of Nepalgunj is Nepal’s second biggest military garrison and the headquarters of the army’s second-most senior army officer. Nonetheless, the army has held no press conference for the local news media since the start of November 2001, and it has no press service in this region, although it is the one most affected by the armed conflict. Only the officer in charge of military operations in the Surkhet district has been open to questions from journalists.

Major Ajit Thapa has distinguished himself by the number of threats he has made against reporters and human rights activists in Nepalgunj. A young INSEC district representative, Vijaya Chand, was threatened with death by Thapa. "If you continue to publish reports against the army, I am going to cut off your hands and legs," he told Chand in the presence of government representatives.

Nepalgunj reporters who were questioned by Reporters Without Borders said they were unable to verify most of the information received from the security forces and human rights organisations. "Our field access is very limited," the BBC’s stringer Sharad K. C. said. "The threats from the military make us fear for the worst if we go to investigate reports of abuses. We have ended up practising a large degree of self-censorship." Major Thapa regularly calls journalists to threaten them after their newspapers publish articles he does not like. "He threatens us or summons us, and he is aggressive," the correspondent of a Kathmandu daily said. "Of course, it is war, and we are ready to denounce Maoist terrorism, but it is virtually impossible to cooperate with the army," said the correspondent of the state-owned news agency RSS.

In July, for example, the Maoists attacked a village near Nepalgunj. Journalists went there the next day and found that the army had not intervened until three hours after the attack, although it has several bases nearby. Most of the national dailies reported this, including the Space Time Daily. Major Thapa summoned the newspaper’s correspondent Krishna Adhikari the same day and demanded that he get a correction published. The reporter complied, for fear of being arrested.

The Nepalgunj journalists voiced their frustration with the constraints placed upon them. "The army and government have nothing but contempt for provincial journalists and yet we are the ones who are close to what is going on," the BBC stringer said. "What’s the good of reporting from the field if our editors in Kathmandu just reproduce the communiques put out in the capital by the Ministry of Defence," he asked. "Sure, we make mistakes, but the sanctions are always applied in an arbitrary and violent fashion," said the reporter, who was himself detained for several hours by the army earlier this year.

The reporters are critical of the army’s policy of non-communication."People say, if the army says nothing about the operations, it’s because it has something to hide," Nepal Television’s correspondent said. The journalists propose that the army put an officer in charge of press relations in each region.

While most of the reporters have not received threats from the Maoists, they fear the rebels’ reactions especially as they become more desperate. "Ever since they abducted two journalists and killed a third, we have become more wary," the RSS correspondent said. The Nepal Samatapatra Daily’s correspondent has been threatened by a Maoist leader in the region. "I had reported his death in my newspaper on the basis of information supplied by the army," the young journalist said. "He threatened me with reprisals if I continued reporting the death of rebel chiefs."

Conclusions and recommendations

Conclusions: disregard for legality

Within days of the proclamation of a state of emergency, lawyers presented habeas corpus petitions to the supreme court on behalf of colleagues and journalists. The petitions were received, but thereafter the supreme court justices have deferred judgement from month to month. None of the dozens of habeas corpus procedures has yet reached a conclusion. Either the judges have declared themselves incompetent, transferring the cases to a broader supreme court tribunal, or they have delayed decisions on the grounds of not having completed their deliberations.

The authorities are obliged by law to bring a detainee before a judge within 24 hours of his arrest. If they do not comply, a lawyer may petition the supreme court for habeas corpus. The supreme court, especially Chief Justice, Keshav Prasad Upadhyaya, who escaped a Maoist ambush, has dragged its feet in these habeas corpus cases and has failed to fully play its role as check and balance to the executive.

The authorities have also targeted the lawyers who tried to ensure that the rights of detainees were respected. Khim Lal Devkota, for example, a lawyer involved in defending jailed journalists, was himself detained by the Kathmandu police on 11 June. The authorities have on several occasions declined to produce Devkota before the supreme court. Due to heavy pressure from the Bar Association and a Supreme Court, he was produced before the court and released. But, the same day, plain clothe security personnel tried to arrest Mr. Devkota at his home. He was protected by human rights activists and he went into hiding. Another lawyer Raman Kumar Shrestha was arrested on 23 August.

The government decided to place hundreds of individuals in custody, including journalists and human rights defenders. Nepal’s anti-terrorist law allows the authorities to hold these persons for three months. Thereafter, their detention may be extended by decision of any of the 75 district courts. Under the state of emergency, the authorities were required only to present "reasonable justifications" in order to get the detention extended. But the government and security forces chose to ignore the rules by failing to bring detainees before judges at the end of the legal detention period. The authorities also did not try to present evidence implicating any detainees in the Maoist rebellion. As a result, hundreds of persons are currently detained in Nepal in an utterly illegal manner. One more proof of this is the fact that those detained has not been given a written record of their arrest, detention or release. "I have no way of proving I was arrested," the journalist Sapkota said. "It is my word against the army’s".

The Kingdom of Nepal must begin at once to respect its international undertakings in the area of human rights, in particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which has been ratified by Nepal. Reporters Without Borders and INSEC also call on the Nepalese government to ratify the Rome Statute creating the International Criminal Court.

Recommendations: restore the rule of law and compensate victims

Reporters Without Borders and INSEC recommend that UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vieira de Mello should:

-  summon Nepal’s ambassador to the UN Commission on Human Rights to remind him of his country’s commitments as regards protection of human rights;
-  ask the government of Nepal to present as soon as possible the reports on the situation in Nepal required under the international human rights instruments which it has ratified;
-  organise a fact-finding mission to Nepal led by the commission’s special rapporteurs for torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, as well as a representative of the commission’s working group on enforced or involuntary disappearances;
-  denounce the acts of violence by the Maoist rebels against civilians.
-  establish a permanent office of the UN High Commission for Human Rights in Nepal.

In this country
30 April - Nepal
Radio station threatened by Maoists
8 February - Nepal
Nepalese media in great danger, International Press Freedom Mission finds
14 January - Nepal
Four arrested for woman journalist’s murder, while clandestine group claims responsibility
12 January - Nepal
Journalist and women’s rights activist brutally murdered
23 December - Nepal
Militant maoists continue their attacks against the media

in the annual report
Nepal - Annual report 2008
Nepal - Annual report 2007
Nepal - Annual report 2006

4 May 2009 - Nepal
Mission report : A call to end violence and impunity
2 April 2009 - Pakistan
Fact-finding visit by Reporters Without Borders to Swat “valley of fear”
16 March 2009 - Afghanistan
Report of fact-finding mission : Press freedom in free-fall in run-up to presidential election

Asia archives
2009 archives
2008 archives
2007 archives
2006 archives
2005 archives
2004 archives
2003 archives
2002 archives
2001 archives
2000 archives

Asia press releases
3 June - North Korea
Pyongyang judges asked to be lenient with two American journalists
3 June - Afghanistan
US forces arrest a journalist in Khost
3 June - China
“Tank Man” photo displayed outside Chinese embassy in Paris on eve of Tiananmen Square massacre
2 June - China
Blocking of Twitter, YouTube, Flickr and Blogger deprives Chinese of Web 2.0
2 June - Sri Lanka
Press freedom activist badly beaten in Colombo, hospitalised