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World Press Freedom Review
1998 World Press Freedom Review
Freedom of expression is granted by the Nepalese constitution, promulgated by the King in 1990. Similarly, pre-censorship of publication is prohibited and, thus, the right to press and publications is theoretically ensured. Nevertheless, political instability and the countryís pressing economic problems make journalism not always a safe profession and a few Nepalese journalists ended up in prison in 1998 for denouncing police violence or widespread government corruption.
The country became a constitutional monarchy in 1990, after King Birendra was forced by huge demonstrations to agree to political reforms, and democracy was reintroduced for the first time since the early 1960s. Since the return of democracy, Nepal has had six governments from opposite ends of the political spectrum, many of them coalitions made up of left and right wing parties: until April 1998, a coalition of communists and monarchists was in power. There is little doubt that a substantial part of the countryís population feels that the re-introduction of democracy has done little to improve the quality of their lives. That is reflected in the strong support still given to the countryís two major communist parties, one of which is accused of having links with a Maoist group in the west of Nepal, which is currently waging a campaign for the violent overthrow of the government.
In its fight against the Maoist group, the government tried to introduce, in 1997, anti-terrorist legislation, which human rights groups criticised for being open to misuse. And in January 1998, Nepalís police, still calling for tougher laws to control Maoist rebels, arrested two journalists. Ashok Subedi, editor of the Nepal weekly Naulo Bihani and Matrika Pakhrel, editor of the literary quarterly Bedana, have been charged with participating in Maoist activities, a charge their newspapers have denied.
In April 1998, the newly-appointed Prime Minister of Nepal, Girija Prasad Koirala, has said that ending the Maoist insurgency in the country will be a priority for his government. The BBC correspondent in Kathmandu said that supporters of Koiralaís Nepali Congress Party are the main targets of attacks by the Maoist rebels and that there has recently been an increase in the violence, in which more than one hundred and fifty people have been killed since the insurgency began in 1996.
Since June 9, several newspapers have been seized by police in Sindhulimadhi, 320 km south-east of Kathmandu. The daily Ajko Samacharpatra and the weeklies Jadanesh, Janaahwan, Yojana, Jana Ekta and Jana Bhawana, all published in Kathmandu, were confiscated several times at the local market. Similar incidents were reported in other districts, such as Gorkha, Sindhuli, Rukum, Salyan, Tanahun, Dhading and Jajarkot, as the newspapers were about to be distributed. The newspapers had printed information about the misconduct of security forces, who are presumed to have killed civilians in clashes with Maoist guerrillas.
Moreover, on July 2, in Kathmandu, policemen told transport firms not to handle newspapers that publish reports on the police operation against Maoist rebels. They also seized and burned newspapers found on buses and trucks.
Two journalists were jailed in November 1998 for reporting on police violence. Yadu Lamichhane, editor of the political monthly Himalayan Journal, was arrested by police in August 1998 on the charge of "being Maoist". The Supreme Court of Nepal ordered his release after failing to find him guilty of any offence. However, just after he was freed, he was arrested again, on November 25, and imprisoned in Bhadragol prison in Katmandu.
Rishiraj Baral, editor-in-chief of the weekly Yojana, was arrested and jailed between November 14 and 23 for "diffusing propaganda that creates chaos in society," after he covered a demonstration by women activists campaigning against the killing of civilians by the army. On December 15, Baral was arrested again on the charge of "being Maoist", in view of the forthcoming general strike on December 17.
Police violence against Maoist rebels is not the only taboo topic; all articles that claim support for the Maoist movement because of government corruption have reportedly been banned and at least two journalists have been arrested.
Shankar Tanpa, correspondent for the weekly Naw Aawaj in Janakpurdham, was jailed on January 7 after reporting that "corruption was going on in the Janakpur area under the protection of the law". His press accreditation has been cancelled, and he is believed to have been beaten by police. He is still being detained "incommunicado" at Jaleswor prison.
On August 17, K. P. Gautam, a reporter for the state-run daily Gorkhapatra, was sentenced to five days in prison by Judge Ishwor Prasad Khatiwada of the Court of Kathmandu. The charges were filed after the June 18 publication of Mr. Gautamís article entitled "Judges Absorb The Salaries Of Their Lowest Staff". In his article, Gautam recounted the details of a report on judicial corruption prepared by the Parliament Economic Committee for the Auditor Generalís Office. Coincidentally, Judge Ishwor Prasad Khatiwada was one of the main figures accused of corruption in the report.
Furthermore, authorities have imposed severe restrictions on the ability of journalists to enter the premises of Singha Durbar, which houses several important government ministries. Police are now able to prevent journalists from entering Singha Durbar at certain times of the day.
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