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World Press Freedom Review
2000 World Press Freedom Review
The continuing development of press freedom in Nepal is hindered by the Press and Publications Act which regulates and licenses the activities of journalists. Containing negative language, the act prohibits publication of material that promotes disrespect towards the King or the royal family, undermines security, creates ethnic division; or that adversely affects the good conduct or morality of the public. In addition, the act provides a basis for banning foreign publications. As a consequence of this strict law, Nepal continues to imprison journalists, many of whom face detention without being tried for a particular offence.
On 29 February, Amnesty International reported the release of Suresh Ale Magar, a columnist with the daily Janadesh. During the term of his detention, he was never given a detention order or taken to court for a trial. The journalist had been detained since October 1999.
In another violation involving the detention of a journalist, RSF highlighted the one-week jail sentence of Jagdish Bhattarai, editor of the local weekly Nava Chetana and correspondent for Kantipur Daily in Palpa. According to information collected in Nepal, on 12 March, Bhattarai was sentenced to seven days in jail and fined for "contempt of court". He was accused of writing an editorial published on 12 December 1998 under the headline, "When defenders of the law become corrupt", which denounced corruption and favours in the legal system, particularly in the Palpa district. In the editorial, the journalist threatened to publish the names of corrupt judges and civil servants.
After finding the journalist guilty, Magistrate Raghu Nath Aryal accused the journalist of, "sullying the image of judges and the court" and asked him to publish a correction and to publicly apologise. Bhattarai refused, explaining that he preferred prison and a fine to presenting his apologies to "corrupt judges". He was taken to Palpa jail, accompanied by fellow journalists who demonstrated "their support by throwing flowers at him".
"No journalist should spend even one day in prison for what he or she writes," said Kavita Menon, CPJ's Asia Program Coordinator. "The court's ability to imprison a journalist on contempt grounds is a legacy of British colonial rule and has no place in a democratic system in which government organs must accept public scrutiny and criticism." Upon his release, Bhattarai addressed a Palpa meeting called by the Nepal Journalists Federation. "I hope my jail term will further embolden journalists to use their pens against the distortions existing in our society", he said.
There were concerns this year over a new law that may have profound implications for press freedom in Nepal. The new bill which amends the current press law, fails to comply with the United Nations International Convention on Civil and Political Rights and would appear to conflict with article 13 of the Nepalese Kingdom’s Constitution of 1990. Press freedom organisations, have called for the new bill to be withdrawn and replaced with liberal amendments including the removal of jail sentences for press offences.
On the basis of information of sources in Nepal, the government introduced the new bill on 16 July to amend the Communications Act 2057. The new bill includes clauses which, "eliminates the right to a permanent publication licence, and replaces it with a two-year renewable licence". The chief district officer, representing the state in its 75 districts, will be authorised to withdraw or suspend a licence if a media outlet compromises "the sovereignty or integrity of the country".
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