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World Press Freedom Review
2002 World Press Freedom Review
In the past few months, Nepal has witnessed some of the most traumatic events of its recent history. After the killing of the royal family in June 2001, there was an escalation in the conflict with the Maoist rebels followed by the imposition of a "State of Emergency," that posed a serious threat to media freedom and journalists safety. Three journalists were killed because of their profession in 2002, hundreds were detained, often without any official charges filed against them; the whereabouts of several were unknown; and some were reportedly tortured during detention, both physically and psychologically.
At the end of 2001, after the declaration of the "State of Emergency", which suspended most of the fundamental rights granted by the constitution, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the press and publication right, and the right against preventive detention, Nepalís Information minister handed out a 13-point guideline for media detailing doís and doníts in covering the Maoist war. These guidelines forbade any criticism of the government or of the armed forces, effectively preventing fair coverage of the conflict.
Political instability has continued throughout the year. In May, Nepalís Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba dissolved the countryís parliament and ordered new elections, after he failed to win the support of the ruling Nepali Congress party to extend the State of Emergency to tackle the long-running Maoist insurgency. But the move received stiff opposition from Deubaís rivals who challenged his decision in court, saying that Deubaís move to dissolve parliament while the country was under Emergency rule was unconstitutional.
On 6 August, Nepalís Supreme Court rejected the petitions seeking to reinstate Nepalís parliament and cleared the way for new elections on November 13, a year-and-a-half ahead of schedule. However, in October, Deuba asked King Gyanendra to delay the elections by a year due to the mounting Maoist violence. King Gyanendra dismissed Deuba and delayed indefinitely the national elections that were set for November. Lokendra Bahadur Chand was appointed to head the government in the interim period until the elections are held.
According to the information gathered by IPI, three journalists were killed this year as a result of their journalistic activity.
The death in mid-June of Krishna Sen while in custody apparently after being tortured at an undisclosed security forces detention centre, provoked a national and international outcry. Some reports suggest that Sen, editor of the pro-Maoist newspaper Janadisha, was tortured to make him confess his ties to the Maoist movement. Sen was reportedly in good health before he was arrested on 20 May 2002. He was detained in an unknown place for nearly one month. The authorities gave no news of Sen after his arrest. Sen, who had spent over two years in detention for publishing an interview with Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai, had been released on 15 March 2001.
Following national and international protests over Senís death in detention, on 10 July, the government set up a commission of enquiry. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists and leading human rights groups immediately challenged the credibility of the commission, chaired by a top interior ministry official and reportedly including no independent figures. As expected, the commission produced a report saying that there was no trace of Senís arrest and that the unidentified body autopsied on 30 May, and supposedly of someone killed in a shootout, may have been his.
Nawaraj Sharma, editor of Kadam, an independent weekly newspaper in western Nepal, was killed by Maoist rebels. The journalistís mutilated body was found on 13 August. Armed men had abducted Sharma, the former editor of the weekly Karnali Sandesh, from his home on 1 June.
On 12 December, journalist Ambika Timsina, was found dead near the village of Pathari, Koshi province, after being kidnapped by suspected Maoist rebels on the previous day. He had been beaten and shot. Timsina had worked for the pro-Maoist weeklies Janadesh and Mahima, but surrendered to the authorities after the State of Emergency was declared in November 2001. Friends said the killers may have been Maoists who suspected Timsina of being an informer for the security forces.
At the end of 2002, there were some signs of improvement for the Nepalese media and journalists, mainly thanks to the efforts of local organisations, such as the Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES) and the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ).
Worried about the degenerating situation for journalists, some international press freedom watchdogs, such as IPI, CPJ, RSF and IFJ, sent delegations to Nepal to convince the government that greater respect for fundamental human rights was needed and that they should improve the working conditions of Nepalese journalists. By the end of the year, most of the detained journalists were released and in January 2003 the government and the Maoists declared a ceasefire.
A RSF mission that visited Katmandu from 10 to 13 March to gather information about the 30 journalists and media workers in jail as a result of government measures to stamp out alleged terrorist or subversive activities, reported that the security forces were blocking habeas corpus efforts by some families and that the wife of one journalist had been arrested after filing such a request with the Supreme Court.
An IPI press freedom delegation travelled to Nepal from 9 to 11 September to call for the release of the 33 journalists detained at the time and urge the government not to re-impose the "State of Emergency" ahead of the elections, originally scheduled for 13 November. The Emergency had lapsed at the end of August and there were widespread fears that it would be re-imposed. Prime Minister Deuba gave a commitment to the IPI delegates that "the Government of Nepal has no intention to re-impose a nationwide State of Emergency" and assured the delegation that he would personally look into the cases of the missing journalists. At the time, at least 20 arrested journalists were still missing.
At the meeting with the IPI Delegation, the Minister of Information and Communication J.P. Gupta agreed to, "cooperate in the setting up of adequate systems which would improve the communication between public authorities and the media; and accept an offer from the IPI to assist in developing improved training institutions for media personnel; and develop state-owned media into true public service institutions."
The IPI Nepal Committee, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) and the Nepalese Bar Association told the IPI delegates that they would file petitions under the Habeas Corpus Act for journalists still in prison, and for those whose whereabouts are not known. They would also propose the repeal of the Crime Against the State Act of 1989, which is inconsistent with the provisions of the 1990 Constitution, but is still used by local administrators when arresting media workers.
The IPI Delegation also proposed the formation of a Press Freedom Grand Jury, comprised of journalists' organisations. This will establish compensation claims for journalists who have been unlawfully held or severely mistreated.
On 28 November, the newly-formed Press Freedom Grand Jury Nepal together with CEHURDES provided legal support to 14 journalists and two human rights activists to file separate cases against the government at the district court of Kathmandu. They also demanded action against the perpetrators (in this case police and army officers).
In accordance with the six-year-old Act Relating to Torture and Compensation, a maximum Rs 100,000 compensation has to be paid to the victims by the state. CEHURDES said that the court has already asked the government to pay a compensation of Rs 100,000 to at least one victim of torture. But this is the first time that a huge number of journalists and rights activists have come together to seek compensation from the state.
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