Respect for human rights deteriorated throughout the country in 2002 on a scale without precedent since the end of the absolute monarchy in 1990. The security forces arrested several thousand persons suspected of being Maoist activists or sympathisers. These arrests and detentions were carried out with the utmost illegality and official notification was rarely given to either victim or family. King Gyanendra, who was crowned after the murder of his brother, took power and ruled without parliament’s support. The Maoists for their part imposed terror in the areas they controlled or tried to control. They slaughtered police officers, murdered their opponents and destroyed infrastructure.
Press freedom was one of the great victims of the state of emergency imposed by King Gyanendra from November 2001 until August 2002. "Our prisons filled with journalists. In mid-2002, there were 35 behind bars. The government refused for a long time to try them or to give us information on their situation," said Taranath Dahal of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), which combatted the government’s repressive policies.
The FNJ launched a national press freedom campaign in July. Most of the Nepalese newspapers ran a blank page instead of editorials on 2 August to protest against harassment of the news media and to press for a commission of enquiry into the imprisonment and torture of journalists. The government of then Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, which had turned a dear ear to earlier calls, finally agreed to set up such a commission. The main journalists’ union was now able to negotiate and obtain the release of some detainees.
The interior ministry recognised for the first time on 4 September that 16 journalists were detained in Nepal - a belated and partial admission. On that date, at least 21 journalists and media assistants were in fact held. Most of them had been held without the authorities starting any form of judicial procedure. They had not been taken before a judge and the maximum periods for which a person can be held without being charged (90 days under the anti-terrorist law) had not been respected.
Both the security forces and the Maoists carried out many acts of torture throughout the year. Krishna Sen, the editor of a pro-Maoist publication, was killed in May in a Kathmandu police station. According to testimonies, detainees in the army barracks and police stations were interrogated once a day, usually individually. They were made to undress and an officer, usually a captain, was given the job of beating them with a baton or steel bar. Suspects were also doused with cold water to make them confess to being a Maoist. Those lucky enough to be released were threatened to ensure they did not talk about the ill-treatment they had received.
Nepalese groups that campaign against torture found evidence of different kinds of torture including burns to the arms and legs or the marks of blows with metal objects. A doctor questioned by Reporters Without Borders 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.
The government’s decision to lift the state of emergency in August was an encouraging sign. The press took 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. The author of the report told 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." Paradoxically, most of the privately-owned news media were free to operate throughout the year. Of course, the daily newspapers and the score of privately-owned radio stations practised self-censorship to avoid provoking the armed forces, but reports on corruption and bad governance were common. Subodh Raj Pyakurel, the director of the Nepalese human rights organisation INSEC, stressed that this freedom was less than it seemed. "Correspondents in the field are terrified and are prevented from confirming reports of human rights violations, while some editors in Kathmandu censor news that is critical of the security forces."
King Gyanendra’s institutional coup d’état blocked any progress in press freedom legislation. In parliament’s absence, the proposed law on the right to information and the proposed revision of the 1991 ordinance on broadcasting were completely forgotten.
Before it was dismissed, Sher Bahadur Deuba’s government granted the first broadcast licences to privately-owned television companies, ending the state’s monopoly of TV broadcasting. Image Channel, Kantipur Television Network and Shangri-La Television were authorised to begin broadcasting.
Two journalists killed
A journalist in Kathmandu told Reporters Without Borders on 25 June 2002 that Krishna Sen, editor of the banned pro-Maoist newspaper Janadisha and former editor of the weekly Janadesh, had died under torture. The news caused an outcry both in Nepal and abroad. At the end of the year, the government was still denying his arrest and subsequent death in detention, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary. The interior ministry, for example, announced on 4 July that police were still actively searching for "Maoist chief" Krishna Sen and that a price of more than 30,000 euros had been put on his head. Sen probably died on 28 May (eight days after his arrest) in an interrogation room at the Mahendra Police Club in Kathmandu. His body was then transferred to the Bihendra police hospital in Maharajgunj (near Kathmandu) where his death would have been confirmed. There were alternative theories for what happened next. His body was either taken to Kathmandu hospital for an autopsy before being handed over to municipal authorities for cremation on the banks of the River Bagmati. Or the police skipped the autopsy and just got rid of the body.
Nepalese state security had triumphantly announced the arrest of Sen and two other journalists on 20 May, portraying him as a senior political leader of the rebels in the Kathmandu valley. But thereafter, the police and the army tried to assign each other the responsibility for his detention. An army officer told the daily Kathmandu Post that Sen was held by the police. The interior ministry for its part tried to convince journalists that Sen was killed in a clash between security forces and a group of Maoist rebels (at a time when he was already in detention).
Forced to defend themselves because of the national and international outcry, the authorities on 10 July set up a commission of enquiry into Sen’s death. Human rights immediately challenged its legitimacy as it was chaired by a senior interior ministry official and had no independent members. The commission submitted a report to the king in early September containing only a partial explanation of Sen’s "disappearance." Claiming to have found no sign of Sen’s arrest, it said the only lead was an unidentified body autopsied on 30 May thought to be that of a person killed in a clash. The police "forgot" to take photographs of the body or note any name, but the physical description could have been Sen’s. However, the forensic doctor told Reporters Without Borders he did not recognise the body as that of Sen. The authorities thereafter blocked any further enquiries. Instead, Kathmandu police chief Bikram Singh Thapa, implicated in Sen’s death in detention, received one of the "best police officers of the year" prizes from Prince Paras Bikram Shah on 16 October for his "professionalism" and "courage."
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, armed men kidnapped Sharma on 3 August from his home in Kalikot district in Karnali province. Thought to be Maoist rebels, his kidnappers cut off his limbs, cut out his eyes and finally shot him in the chest. Thereafter, they threatened his relatives and prevented them from going to Kathmandu to collect the aid which the government gave 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 publication 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.
Another journalist was murdered in 2002, but at the end of the year it was impossible to say if his death was linked to his work as a journalist.
The body of Ambika Timsina, 26, was found on 12 December outside the village of Pathari, near the city of Biratnagar in the southeastern province of Kosi. He had been shot several times, and his body bore the marks of blows. Witnesses said eight masked men came to his home the day before and took him away to "settle some business." A former reporter with the pro-Maoist weeklies Janadesh and Mahima, Timsina had turned himself in to the security forces after the state of emergency was proclaimed in November 2001. After he and his father took advantage of an amnesty, he had hoped to resume working as a journalist in the region, and he had been planning to marry in the coming months. Although his killers were not formally identified, some family members thought they were Maoists who suspected him of being an informer and punished him for his "betrayal."
New information about a journalist killed before 2002
The court in the southern district of Rautahat on 14 February 2002 extended the detention of politician Jaya Prakash Kausal, who is accused of instigating the January 2000 murder of Shambhu Patel, a journalist with the state-owned Radio Nepal, because of his reporting. The court had still not issued its verdict in this case at the end of the year.
Three journalists abducted
Demling Lama, correspondent of the state-owned Radio Nepal and the national daily Himalaya Times in the Sindhupalchok district (north-east of Kathmandu), was asleep in his home in Dhuskot on the night of 5 April when about 15 armed rebels burst in and took him away. He succeeded in escaping from his captors four days later and told the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) that they had beaten him.
Dhana Bahadur Rokka Magar, a news presenter for 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 Gurkha 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 was accused of being a government spy. According to some sources, Magar’s father was killed by the Maoists.
Rekhraj Dahal, the correspondent of the daily Prateek in the district of Sindhuli (east of Kathmandu), was abducted from his home on 8 November by Maoist rebels who beat him for about eight hours before setting him free. He was immediately hospitalised.
63 journalists imprisoned
"My husband is just a journalist. He left in the morning and stayed late into the evening at the newspaper. He was never involved in politics." So said the wife of Om Sharma, editor of the pro-Maoist newspaper Janadisha. Even if certain pro-Maoist journalists undeniably wrote newspaper columns defending the policies of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), outlawed since 1996, the authorities were never able to establish their involvement in crimes or directs calls for violence. Reporters Without Borders defended the journalists of banned pro-Maoist publications insofar as they did not directly participate in the crimes committed by Mao Zedong’s disciples. Some Nepalese journalists thought the pro-Maoist publications were "pure propaganda." But others pointed out that the support which their editors and writers gave the Maoist cause did not necessarily mean they were party members. "Some even criticised the party’s decisions in private," one Kathmandu journalist said.
At the end of 2002, at least 20 journalists and media assistants were in prison in Nepal.
Janadisha editor Om Sharma was arrested in Kathmandu on 26 November 2001, the day the state of emergency was proclaimed. His detention was confirmed by the interior ministry on 4 September 2002.
Janadisha editorial assistant Nim Bahadur Budhathoki was arrested in Kathmandu on 26 November 2001. His detention was confirmed by the interior ministry on 4 September 2002.
Khil Bahadur Bhandari, editor of the weekly Janadesh, was arrested in Kathmandu on 26 November 2001. His detention was confirmed by the interior ministry on 4 September 2002.
Lawyer and freelance journalist Baikuntha Dahal was arrested on 29 November 2002. He was being held in the eastern district of Udaypur.
Rajendra Karki, correspondent for the weekly Blast in Fattepur, had been held since November 2001 in Rajbiraj prison (in the southeast of the country).
Komal Nath Baral, editor of the weekly Swaviman, had been held in Kaski prison since 21 December 2001. The interior ministry confirmed on 4 September 2002 that he had been arrested by the army.
Chitra Chaudhari, editor of the local weekly Nawacharcha, was arrested on 6 December 2001 in Tikapur, in the western district of Kailali. He was being held in a regional police building.
Badri Prasad (or Nath) Sharma, editor of the local weekly Baglung, had been held since 26 December 2001 in Baglung prison (in the west of the country. His detention was confirmed by the interior ministry on 4 September 2002.
Swaviman deputy editor Janardan Biyogi had been detained since 27 December 2001, after being arrested by the army.
Devram Yadav of the national weekly Jana Astha and the local weekly Blast was arrested in December 2001 and put in detention in Rajbiraj prison (in the southeast). The interior ministry confirmed on 4 September 2002 that he had been arrested by the army.
Posh (or Biswa) Raj Poudel and Suresh Chandra Adhikari of Chure Sandesh had been detained since 23 January 2002 in Chitwan prison (southwest of the capital).
Jana Astha correspondent Ambika Niraula was arrested in January in the eastern district of Saptari. His editor said he had been detained for reporting on the actions of the Maoist rebels.
Arjun Thapaliya, the administrator of the monthly Dishabodh, disappeared after being arrested by the army at the beginning of 2002.
Dishabodh reporter Mumaram Khanal has been detained in the eastern district of Saptari since the beginning of 2002.
Keshav Bhattal, a freelance journalist based in the eastern district of Taplejung, was arrested at the beginning of 2002.
Bhim Sapkota of Narayani Khabar Patrika, a daily newspaper based in Chitwan, southwest of the capital, was arrested at his home in Chitwan on 6 May.
Atindra Neupane of Janadisha was arrested by police on 20 May in the Kathmandu area.
Sangita Khadka of Janadisha was arrested by police on 20 May in the Kathmandu area. His detention was confirmed by the interior ministry on 4 September.
Maheshwar Dahal, the editor of Nepali Awaj (Voice of Nepal), a pro-Maoist magazine based in New Delhi, was arrested on 12 July by police in the southern city of Nepalgunj after being detained in New Delhi.
Hari Baral of Bijayapur, a weekly based in the eastern city of Dharan, spent several months in prison after being detained by security forces on 3 January. Bhawani Baral, another Bijayapur journalist, went into hiding to avoid arrest.
Kamal Mishra, a contributor to the weekly Dristi, was arrested by the Indian police in the town of Siliguri, 40 km. from the Nepalese border, as he was leaving hospital on 5 January. Within a few days, he was handed over to the Nepalese police who detained him. He was released a few weeks later.
Bijay Raj Acharya, editor of the magazine Srijanashil Prakashan (Creative Publications), was arrested at his home by police and soldiers on 9 January. Held initially at the Singha Durbar police station in Kathmandu, he was transferred the next day to the Balaju military camp where, according to Amnesty International, he was tortured. While being interrogated, his hands and feet were bound, his face was covered and he was given electric shocks to make him admit to links with the Maoists. After two days of questioning, he was taken back to a police station where relatives were allowed to visit him. He was released on 19 March, but had to report to the police once a week.
Nava Raj Prahadi, a local reporter for the daily Kantipur and president of the local branch of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), was released unconditionally in January by the district authorities of Lamjun (west of the capital) after being kept for five days in police detention because the army did not like his report about the release of an accused Maoist supporter for lack of proof.
Journalist Harihar "Sabita" was released on bail at the request of the district authorities of Lamjun on 3 February. He had been arrested for allegedly supporting the Maoists.
Gopal Budhatokhi, editor of the weekly Sanghu (Bridge), was detained on 3 March, after suspecting for a week that he was being followed. He had just finished the latest issue and was going home by motorcycle. About 100 metres from his office in the centre of Kathmandu, 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 solitary confinement with his head hooded and his hands bound for the next three weeks. He was allowed to remove the hood only when he ate or went to the toilet.
The isolation plunged Budhatokhi into a "deep depression." He described the anxiety he suffered during his detention as follows: "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 viewed 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.
The prime minister announced on 6 March that Budhatokhi had been arrested for repeatedly publishing "invented" articles about the security forces with the sole intention of spreading rumours. Following national and international pressure, he was released on 25 March. Thereafter he had back and lower-back pain and discomfort in certain positions, and said his memory had been affected. "I have avoided going mad, but I have the impression that my brain is running at half speed." Budhatokhi had previously been detained in December 2001, when about 150 police officers surrounded his home in Kathmandu. He was held for several hours for publishing a cartoon critical of the army and extracts from a communique issued by a Maoist rebel chief.
Shankar Khanal, a correspondent for the daily Space Time and the state-run Radio Nepal, was freed by the security forces on 3 March after three months of detention in Sankhuwasabha (in the east of the country). He had been arrested on 2 December 2001 for reporting the activities of the Maoist rebels in his district.
Shyam Shrestha, editor of the far-left monthly Mulyankan, was arrested at Kathmandu’s international airport along with two human rights activists on 16 March as he was about to leave for New Delhi to take part in a seminar. A critic of government, Mulyankan had been targeted by the secret police for several months. The newspaper Kantipur reported that the three were being held in secret at the Bhadrakali military camp in the capital. Shrestha’s wife accused the government of "abduction," voiced concern about their conditions of detention, and said the army was treating them like criminals. On 24 March, she joined the wife of detained journalist Gopal Budhathoki in appealing to the government for the immediate release of their husbands. The three were released on 26 March, one day after Budhathoki.
Kumar Rawat, the editor of two Nepali-language publications, the far-left monthly Mul Prabaha and the weekly Mahima, was arrested on 24 March at his home in Kalanki near Kathmandu, and was kept blindfolded and handcuffed for eight days. His family received no news of him for several days. He was set free on 10 April on condition that he reported regularly to the police.
Sudarsan Raj Pandey, editor of the weekly Utthan and the daily Terai Today in Birgunj in the Parsa district (south of Kathmandu), was arrested by police on 26 March while reporting in the Bhaktapur area in the Kathmandu valley and was held at Suryabinayak military camp, near Bhaktapur. His family appealed to the National Human Rights Commission after being refused any visiting rights. He was released after one month.
Bishwa Mani Dhital, editor of the weekly Rastra Chakra, was arrested on 31 March at Banepa, near Kathmandu. He was freed on 8 April.
Sama Thapa, editor of the local weekly Yugyaan, was released by the security forces on 6 April after more than four months of detention in the Tikapur military camp in western Kailali district.
Youbraj Pandey of the local daily Naya Disha was arrested by plain-clothes police at his office in Butwal in the Rupendehi district (southwest of Kathmandu) on 27 April. He was released after several weeks of detention.
The district authorities of Sunrasi (in the east of the country) on 28 April released Prem Bahadur Diyali, deputy editor of the Itahari-based weekly Blast Times, who had been held for more than four months by the local police. Before being set free, he signed a statement that he in no way supported the Maoists.
Prem Bastola of Blast Times was arrested at his home in the village of Haraicha (in the east of the country) on 6 May and was detained in Biratnagar prison (some 400 km. southeast of Kathmandu). He had reportedly written many pieces about clashes between the Maoist rebels and security forces but, according to colleagues, had never supported the Maoists. While held he was badly beaten during interrogation and forced at gunpoint to sign a letter in which he admitted taking photographs at Maoist meetings. He was released after three months.
Janadisha editor Krishna Sen (see above), Atindra Neupane, a journalist with Janadisha, and Sangita Khadka, a correspondent for the weekly Jana Aahawhan, were arrested by the security forces at a house in a Kathmandu suburb on 20 May. The police had been actively seeking them because of their role in the Maoist movement, and the army had given their names and shown their photographs on state-run television two weeks earlier, presenting Sen as a leader of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) in the Kathmandu area. Sen had previously spent more than two years in detention, until released at the behest of the supreme court on 15 March 2001. This time he had annoyed the authorities by publishing an interview with rebel leader Baburam Bhattarai in his pro-Maoist weekly. Neupane and Khadka were known for filing reports favourable to the Maoists from Maoist-held areas. As recounted above, Sen died under torture at the end of May.
A young journalist with the Nepali-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. Hewas finally released following international pressure and pressure from the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ). Back at home, he had to recover in bed and could not walk for a week. After his release, he had to go to the police station twice a week and each time answer a series of questions about his activities. Later, he had to report 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."
Mina Sharma, editor of the Nepali-language monthly Aikyabaddata (Solidarity), was arrested at her home in a suburb of Kathmandu on 24 May and was taken to a detention centre for so-called Maoist suspects. "I was interrogated by military personnel. They tortured me by giving me electric shocks and hitting me. The soldiers insulted me all the time... We used to hear the sounds of torture and gunfire all day. After five days, they brought my nephew Binod Tiwari, the co-editor of my magazine, to the same detention centre. I heard him crying out under torture." Two weeks later, Sharma was transferred to an army barracks, where she was subjected to further interrogation about her work as a journalist.
"They asked me what Solidarity was. I told them it was a magazine. They asked me why I worked for this magazine. I said I had a degree in journalism and wanted to practice my profession. They asked if it was a Maoist newspaper. I said it was an independent publication. They then hit me with an iron bar and asked the same questions again. They said the magazine was sponsored by the Maoist terrorists and asked why I was lying. I said I wasn’t, and told them to check their facts. They hit me again, especially in the head, and kicked me with their military boots. I said they could kill me, but I had nothing else to say. They showed me some of the magazine’s correspondence and a list of all the subscribers, claiming they were all Maoists. I said some might be sympathisers, but most were not."
The soldiers interrogated her for several days about the activities of her husband, who had taken refuge in India, and about articles published in Aikyabaddata. She was blindfolded and her hands were tied all this time. After two weeks, Sharma was transferred to a Kathmandu police station and then to a women’s prison in the capital. A few days later, she received a visit from her family, including her two children aged 7 and 9. "I had no way of protesting against my detention. The police extended my detention just on the basis of an administrative decision. I was released on 5 November as a result of pressure by Nepalese and international press organisations. I want to thank the Committee to Protect Journalists, Reporters Without Borders, the International Federation of Journalists, Amnesty International and all the Nepalese human rights organisations." She added that she now had a new battle to wage because the authorities closed the magazine’s offices and confiscated its computers and fax machine.
Krishna Prasad Gautam, the head of Chandeswari, a company that publishes Sandhyakalin, Prabhatkalin, the weekly Janasatta and several monthlies, was arrested by police on 2 June and questioned at the Hanumandhoka police station. He was released a month later.
Ramhari Paudyal, a reporter with the daily Samacharpatra, was arrested by police on 13 June in Pharping, some 10 km. south of the capital, for covering the activities of the Maoists. Within hours of his arrest, his newspaper demanded his release, which took place a week later.
Bishnu Khanal, the editor of the weekly Surkhet Post, based in the western town of Surkhet, the newspaper’s manager, Liladhar Gautam, and one of its reporters, Khadananda Lamichanne, were released on 23 June. That had been arrested in November 2001, after the introduction of the state of emergency, for carrying news about the Maoists, who were very active in the area.
Maheshwar Dahal, who edits and writes for the pro-Maoist magazine Nepali Awaj (Voice of Nepal), and three other Nepalese were arrested by police in the southern city of Nepalgunj on 12 July after being detained in New Delhi and then deported. Residents in India, they were accused of being members of the outlawed pro-Maoist organisation Akhil Bharatiya Nepali Ekta Samaj and of attending a meeting on human rights violations by the Nepalese security forces. Dahal had previously worked for the pro-Maoist publications Janadesh and Yojana. The were jailed in Bhadragol prison in Kathmandu.
Dhana Bahadur Gurung, a photographer with the banned pro-Maoist weekly Janadesh, was arrested on 19 July by men in civilian dress at his shop in Kathmandu. He was released a few weeks later.
The authorities released some 10 journalists and media assistants after the lifting of the state of emergency in August, including Dipak Mainali, editorial assistant with Janadisha, who had been arrested in late November 2001 in Kathmandu; Ganga Bista, correspondent for the state-run TV broadcaster and the local newspaper Chautari Times, who had been arrested on 2 December 2001 in the eastern district of Sankhuwasabha; and Dil Sahani, a journalist in the southern district of Rupandehi, who had been arrested on 13 December 2001.
Kishor Shrestha, editor of the far-left weekly Jana Astha (The People’s Faith), was arrested at his office in Kathmandu on 4 August by police who took him to Hanumandhoka police station. Eight police officers, including Superintendent Khanal and 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. He was then placed in a 4-by-3-metre cell without electricity that was already holding 20 detainees. Guards were strict, and Shrestha was moved to another cell three times for talking to fellow detainees. The police at first said he could be charged with libel for accusing crime squad officer Ram Chandra Khanal of corruption in an article. But they freed him after 24 hours, threatening reprisals if he continued to write about the death of journalist Krishna Sen (see above).
Binod Tiwari, co-editor of the magazine Aikyabaddata, was freed on 5 September. He had been arrested three months earlier and tortured by the army because he worked with journalist Mina Sharma (see above).
Indra Giri, correspondent for the daily Nepal Samacharpatra in the northeastern district of Sankhuwasabha, was arrested for the second time in 10 months on 6 October by the army. Matrika Timsina, a contributor to several Sankhuwasabha-based weeklies, was arrested with him. They were released about a week later.
Ram Bhakta Maharjan, an editorial assistant with the weekly Janadesh, was released by police from Kathmandu prison on 1 November after a year in detention.
Ishwor Chandra Gyawali, editor of the pro-Maoist monthly Dishabodh, Manarishi Dhital, an employee with the same publication, Deepak Sapkota, a reporter with the pro-Maoist weekly Janadesh, Dipendra Rokaya, an editorial assistant with Janadesh, Dhana Bahadur Thapa Magar, a Janadesh photographer, and Mina Sharma (see above) of the monthly Aikyabaddata were released from Kathmandu central prison on 5 November. Some had been held for about a year.
Devram Yadhav, a journalist with the weekly Blast in the southeastern town of Dharan, was visited in Rajbiraj prison by Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) president Taranath Dahal on 15 December. Yadhav was arrested on 13 December 2001 by local civilian authorities who accused him of being a Maoist sympathiser.
Govinda Acharya, the editor of the pro-Maoist weekly Janadesh, and Chandra Man Shrestha, the business manager of the pro-Maoist weekly Janadisha, were freed on 16 December from Kathmandu central prison. FNJ vice president Gopal Budhathoki (see above) was waiting for them outside. Arrested the day the state of emergency was proclaimed on 26 November 2001, Acharya was badly traumatized. The army had detained his wife Sabitree Acharya in February 2002 after she filed a complaint for his release, and she spent more than two months in prison. Attorney Bishwa Mainali said that, in the eyes of the authorities, she had displayed too much energy in her husband’s defence. Shrestha had been arrested in December 2001. The judicial authorities had ordered the security forces to release them at least three times.
With the support of the Nepalese press freedom organisation CEHURDES, 17 journalists who had been freed from prison filed suit with the Kathmandu district court on 28 November alleging "unjustified detention" and "ill-treatment." They included Gopal Budhathoki, editor of the daily Sanghu, Shyam Shrestha, editor of the monthly Mulyankan, Anuradha Poudyal, a reporter with Space Time Daily, Rewati Saptoka of the daily Rajdhani, P. B. Diyali, co-editor of Blast Time, Dipak Prasad Sapkota and Dipendra Rokaya of Janadesh, Iswor Chandra Gyawali and Mana Rishi Dhital of the monthly Disha Bodh, and Bahadur Magar, the FNJ’s Kathmandu branch secretary. They each claimed 200,000 rupees in damages (about 2,500 euros) and the return of confiscated equipment.
57 journalists arrested
The BBC’s correspondent in the southern city of Nepalgunj, K. C. Sharad, was abducted by army officers on 5 January 2002 from the office of the state-run Radio Nepal, for which he also works. He was taken blindfolded to an army barracks and questioned for two hours before being released.
Kantipur Daily correspondent Lal Prasad Sharma was detained by police for several hours in Kusma, in the district de Parbat, on 9 January for a report about the army’s implication in the death of handicapped children during military operations.
A group of police and soldiers arrested Anuradha Paudyal, health and environment correspondent with the privately-owned Space Time Daily, on 19 January at her home, which they searched for more than two hours without showing a warrant. They seized books and two sets of binoculars used for bird-watching by Paudyal’s husband, also a journalist. Her husband said they blindfolded her and took her away in a truck without saying why or where she was being detained. She was taken to the Balaju army barracks for questioning. She was released two days later subject to her remaining available for further questioning. "I was not physically mistreated but I underwent psychological torture," she said.
Jana Astha editor Kishor Shrestha (see also preceding section) was detained at his office in Kathmandu on 29 January by plain-clothes police who, according to the deputy editor, showed no warrant and refused to give any explanation. He was released the next day. Shrestha is known to be close to the opposition Marxist Leninist Party (MLP).
Chet Bahadur Sinjali, a journalist and member of the FNJ, was detained for 12 hours on 21 March by the security forces in the western town of Butwal.
Narayan Prasad Sharma, a veteran journalist and editor of the regional daily Naya Yugbodh, was detained and questioned in an army barracks in the western district of Dang for one hour on 16 March after a raid on the newspaper’s offices.
Yubaraj Puri, a journalist with the weekly Khabar Patrika and FNJ member, was arrested by the security forces in the district of Sindhupalchok on 10 April. He was released the next day.
On 29 April, plain-clothes police raided the weeklies Nawa Yougabni and Nepali Awaj, located in the building of the Shrinkala printing press in Kathmandu’s Thapagaon district, seizing cuttings from that day’s editions and a photograph of the wife of Prachanda, the Maoist’s top leader. They also detained journalists Kedar Bhattarai and Prakash Thapa, and five other employees - Sita Adhikari, Balram Dhamala, Prahlad Basnet, Rajkumar Karki and Bel Bahadur Ale - releasing them all after questioning three hours later. Tej Prakash Pandit, Nawa Yougabni’s editor and president of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), complained about the arrests, obtaining an apology from police who said they had just followed orders "from above." Pandit said he suspected the raid was ordered by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who had been irritated by articles criticising his government and its handling of the state of emergency.
Tara Neupane, an editorialist for the weekly Sanghu, was detained for three hours on 23 May by men in civilian dress when he was at the office of the FNJ.
Bishnu Ghimire, editor of the daily Janapraha, was detained on 4 August on a charge of extorting money from a restaurant owner. He was freed the next day.
More than 250 people, most of them journalists, staged a silent street demonstration in the capital on 9 August, carrying lanterns to draw attention to the government’s blind attacks on the press. The FNJ staged similar protests in other parts of the country. Police detained 22 journalists as they were demonstrating in Chitwan, south of Kathmandu. Sixteen journalists were arrested at the end of a demonstration and meeting in Ithari, southeast of the capital. The security forces prevented journalists from demonstrating in Birganj, south of Kathmandu, and confiscated the lanterns prepared by the FNJ. The demonstration was banned in Ilam in the east of the country. All of the journalists were set free after being held for at least two hours.
Harihar Singh Rathaur, the correspondent of the daily Kantipur in the far-eastern district of Dailekh was detained for 11 hours on 9 November. The army said he was picked up as part of the investigation into an explosion near his home. He was set free after an FNJ member intervened.
Police arrested Tikaram Rai, editor of the newspaper Aparanha, on 12 November as a result of a complaint against him under the Public Offense Act by a police officer, Basanta Kunwar, who had been accused in the newspaper three days earlier of selling driving licences. He was set free on bail on 14 November.
Dinesh Chaudhari, a contributor to the newspaper Space Time Daily in the western town of Jajarkot, was detained for a few hours on 13 November on an accusation of sedition.
Five journalists physically attacked
Puskar Thapa, a journalist with the Space Time Daily, was physically attacked by Ram Krishna Nirala, a former official of the Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation (RNAC) at a meeting of the Kathmandu bar association on 30 March 2002. The newspaper had carried an article that day reporting that Nirala had stolen legal documents from the RNAC.
Ujir Magar, a journalist with the daily Kathmandu Post, was manhandled on 5 May by members of the Gurkha Army Ex-Servicemen’s Organisation (GAESO) who were irritated by a question he asked during a GAESO press conference in Kathmandu about its complaint against the British government.
Federation of Nepalese Journalists president Taranath Dahal was roughed up at his home in Bhaktapur on 25 June by three inebriated thugs, who threatened him before leaving.
A soldier hit Kamal Panthi and threatened to kill him in Gulariya on 3 August when he was investigating trafficking in timber. The daily Kantipur’s correspondent in the western district of Bardiya, Panthi received several stiches in hospital. The army promised an enquiry.
Deepak Pandey of the Space Time Daily was covering a fire at a furniture store in the centre of Kathmandu on the night of 8 October when he was attacked by Inspector Sukdev Neupane and Deputy Inspector Amrit Shrestha of the nearby Kamalpokhari police station. According to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, the two police officers punched and kicked Pandey, and stole a gold chain and the equivalent of 100 euros from him. The FNJ said the two officers were in civilian dress and inebriated at the time. Unaware his assailants were policemen, Pandey appealed for help to other police officers present. However, the latter detained him and placed him in a police vehicle, in which they beat him until they brought him to a hospital. There the police tried to pass him off as someone who was inebriated, but the hospital’s chief doctor refused to sign any document incriminating him. The police finally had to release Pandey after a senior officer intervened. Doctors said Pandey’s body was covered with bruises and he was vomiting blood as a result of internal injuries sustained in the beating.
Eight journalists threatened
Tanka Panta and Dipak Rijal, two journalists with Kamana Publications, received telephone calls on 20 September 2002 from a certain Shobhit Banset who claimed to be a member of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) and threatened to "physically eliminate" them if they continued to criticise the party in their reports.
A bomb was discovered and defused on 22 September outside the home of Mahendra Sherchan in Kopundole, in the Kathmandu valley. Sherchan heads the Utsarga publishing house, which owns Rajdhani, one of the country’s most widely-read dailies. The police accused the Maoist rebels of being responsible for the bomb.
Kishor Shrestha, editor of the weekly Jana Astha, eluded several arrest attempts after being accused of murder in October, while the premises of his newspaper were searched several times and all its equipment was seized. The murder charge stemmed from the publication on 9 October of a nude photograph of the Nepalese actress Shrisha Karki together with a report describing her as a prostitute whose clients included senior Nepalese politicians and police officers. Karki was found dead at her home five days later, the apparent victim of suicide which the press blamed on Jana Astha’s story. Arrest warrants were issued for Shrestha and three of his journalists for breach of the peace and murder. But they continued to bring the newspaper out clandestinely, despite the police searches and condemnation of Jana Astha’s excesses in other news media. Shrestha told Reporters Without Borders that Karki’s suicide was being used as pretext for silencing a newspaper that denounced corruption and human rights violations. The FNJ petitioned the supreme court in December claiming the two-fold accusation against the four journalists violated Nepalese law.
The offices of the daily Aankush in Birgunj (southwest of Kathmandu) were ransacked on 8 November by six individuals who had been implicated by the newspaper in the trafficking of counterfeit money. They threatened to killed the newspaper’s editor, Dipendra Chauhan.
Pressure and obstruction
From January to August 2002, the government and king suspended the seven articles of the constitution that guarantee fundamental freedoms: the right to basic freedoms, the right to press and publication, the right not to be detained improperly, the right to property, the right to private life, and the right to constitutional recourse. Under the state of emergency, Nepalese citizens found themselves stripped for an indefinite period of article 12.2 (a) guaranteeing freedom of opinion and expression and article 13.1 forbidding censorship of a news report, article or written document. The proclamation of the state of emergency and its extension by parliament in February also suspended article 15 on detention and compensation for improper detention. Under article 118 of the constitution, the king decreed the army’s deployment throughout the territory and, at the government’s suggestion, announced the promulgation of the Terrorism and Disruptive Activities Ordinance (TADO) which, on 20 March 2002, had still not been passed by parliament. The anti-terrorist law gave full powers to the security forces to combat "terrorist" activities including "the publication or distribution of news about an individual or group implicated in terrorist or subversive activities." Police procedures were simplified to the extreme, the periods for which detainees could be held were extended, and there was provision for special courts to try "terrorists." But as the INSEC pointed out, the government only set up one special court, in Kathmandu, and the fate of Maoists suspects detained outside the capital was not resolved. In practice, the police and army had full powers in the districts hit by the war, acting like "ministers of the interior and justice."
To illustrate the pressure and obstruction that provincial journalists must daily undergo in their reporting on the civil war, Reporters Without Borders questioned reporters in the southwestern city of Nepalgunj. Although the country’s second largest military garrison and headquarters of the army’s second highest ranking officer, the army had not held a press conference for the local news media in Nepalgunj since the start of November 2001, and had no press service in the region, the one most affected by the war. Only the officer in charge of military operations in the Surkhet district had been open to questions from journalists. But Maj. Ajit Thapa also distinguished himself by the number of threats he made against reporters and human rights activists in Nepalgunj, including a young INSEC investigator, Vijaya Chand. "If you continue to publish reports against the army, I am going to cut off your hands and legs," Thapa told Chand in the presence of government officials.
Nepalgunj-based journalists 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," said Sharad K. C., the BBC’s stringer. "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." Maj. Thapa regularly called journalists to threaten them after their newspapers published articles he did 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 2002, 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 had several bases nearby. Most of the national dailies reported this, including the Space Time Daily. Maj. Thapa summoned Krishna Adhikari, the newspaper’s correspondent, 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.
The reporters criticised 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," said Nepal Television’s correspondent. The reporters also 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 was 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."
Police prevented journalists from several newspapers from covering the inauguration of a milk processing plant by the agriculture ministry on 9 January in Kohalpur near the southern city of Nepalgunj.
The government met with the owners of the main privately-owned news media in February to request their continuing support and ask them not to use their editorials to defend journalists arrested by the security forces, including journalists from their own publications. An opposition journalist said the news media’s support for the government could be explained by the fact that nearly 80 per cent of the advertising in the print media came from the government and state sector.
Ramnath Mainali, a lawyer who represented the pro-Maoist weekly Janadesh, was arrested at his home in Kathmandu on 14 March by a dozen members of the security forces in civilian dress. Amnesty International said he was well known for defending Krishna Sen and Sen’s successor as Janadesh editor, Govinda Acharya, when they were arrested. He had obtained Sen’s release in 2001 by means of a supreme court ruling. Subsequently, he had filed a habeas corpus petition for Acharya. The military told Mainali’s family that he was being held in the Singha Durbar barracks in Kathmandu. He fell very ill while in detention and was released on bail on 10 July but thereafter had to report to the police once a week.
A bomb went off on 25 March outside the state-owned Gorakhapatra Corporation, which publishes the dailies Gorakhapatra and The Rising Nepal in Kathmandu. It caused some damage but no one was hurt. No group claimed responsibility but the Maoists were assumed to have been behind it.
The army allowed journalists into a combat zone in western Nepal for the first time on 11 May. Pictures and reports on military operations were rare. The difficulty of getting access to the areas of fighting was one of the reasons why this was called the "invisible war." The Nepalese armed force showed no enthusiasm for taking journalists into combat zones. "We know our requests for access to combat zones will be systematically refused," said a reporter with a major Kathmandu daily. "We can go to a locality where a clash has just taken place, in order to count the dead and take pictures of destroyed buildings. But the army won’t let us go with them into the field. Perhaps for fear that we will witness their weakness or the collateral damage on the civilian population."
Police inspector Govinda Thapoliya barred journalists from entering the Royal Nepal Airlines building in the southwestern city of Nepalgunj during a ceremony on 14 May.
Maoist rebels blew up a radio and TV relay antenna in the village of Parwanipur in Bara district on 14 September, thereby interrupting broadcasting in three districts. A former member of the Maoist guerrilla forces said both guerrilla fighters and civilians were banned from listening to Kathmandu’s privately-owned radio station in the areas under their control.
Chandra Prasad Baniya, a former parliamentary representative for the western district of Myagdi, was put under house arrest at the behest of the district’s civilian authorities on 4 October for contributing an article "supporting terrorism" to the local newspaper Myagdi Sandesh. The newspaper’s editor Tika Ram Sapkota was also detained and then released on bail.
It was reported on 19 December that Lain Bahadur Thapa, editor of the weekly Panchthar Sandesh, was verbally threatened by security forces and government officials which forced him to withdraw the lawsuit he had filed for unjustified detention during the almost nine months he was held in the remote northeastern district of Panchthar. He also had to report daily to the police station.