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Nepal 27 March 2003

Government and Maoist rebels urged to release the 12 journalists still held in Nepal

While welcoming the release of at least nine journalists in March alone, Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) and Nepal’s Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES) today called on both the government and the leaders of the Maoist rebels to release all of the 12 journalists still held in Nepal.

"The process of negotiations has opened the way for the release of political prisoners, including journalists, and an increase in press freedom in Nepal, and now we urge both parties to respect their commitments and to put an end to a terrible period for freedom of expression," the two organisations said in a joint letter sent to both Prime Minister Lokendra Bahadur Chand and Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, who is heading the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in the negotiations.

The authorities are still holding 11 journalists, most of whom worked for pro-Maoist publications. They include Komal Nath Baral, editor of the weekly Swaviman, who has been held for more than 15 months in Kaski prison, and Muma Ram Khanal, editor of the pro-Maoist monthly Dishabodh, who was tortured several times and who is held by the army. The others are Janardhan Biyog, Arjun Thapaliya, Bharat Sigdel, Dinesh Shrestha, Anjan Kumar Himali, Niva Shah, Sanga Tamrakar and Kumar Pandit. Although never acknowledged by the authorities, another journalist died in detention. This was Krishna Sen, the editor of a pro-Maoist publication, who was arrested by the authorities on 20 May 2002.

The Maoists, for their part, are still holding reporter Dhana Bahadur Rokka Magar of Radio Nepal despite undertakings given by some Maoist leaders that he would be released. He has been held since August 2002 in the western region of Surket.

The government and the Maoists agreed on 13 March to release all prisoners of war and political detainees and, as part of the negotiations, each side undertook not to kidnap or arrest the other side’s supporters.

As a result of this accord, the government released more than 10 journalists. They included Maheswar Dahal and Ram Karki, also known as Parth Chetri, journalists with the pro-Maoist publication Nepali Aawaj (based in New Delhi), who were set free on 21 March following a favourable supreme court ruling. They also included Shiva Tiwari, editor of the pro-Maoist publication Janadisha, who was released from Kathmandu prison on 24 March. He told CEHURDES he was tortured during the first two months of his detention.

The pro-Maoist weekly Janadesh was able to reappear on 25 March. All the pro-Maoist publication had been banned in November 2001 after a state of emergency was declared. Om Sharma, who was imprisoned from November 2001 to February 2003 is editing Janadesh again.

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