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World Press Freedom Review
2003 World Press Freedom Review
With the ongoing conflict between Nepal's government and the Communist Party of Nepal ("CPN-Maoist") and both sides accusing the media of sympathising with the enemy, the working conditions for Nepalese journalists have been extremely hard and challenging throughout 2003.
The main events recorded this year in Nepal's media field have been the continued arrest, detention, abduction, harassment and targeting of journalists by both sides. Some of the journalists have even reported being tortured by security forces while in detention. Thanks to the work of local human rights and press freedom organisations, most of these violations have been documented and brought to the attention of international organisations. In the second half of the year, UN special rapporteurs repeatedly sent urgent appeals to the Nepalese government protesting the detention of journalists in unknown locations.
At the beginning of the year, after the second ceasefire was declared on 29 January (the first ceasefire had been broken in November 2001) the situation improved for a few months. Most of the journalists detained during the previous months on allegations of being Maoists were released following Supreme Court orders. However, the second ceasefire lasted only until August 2003.
On 13 March, the government and the Maoists agreed to release all prisoners of war and political detainees. As part of their negotiations, each side also undertook not to kidnap, abduct or arrest the other side's supporters. According to the Kathmandu-based Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Studies ("CEHURDES"), at least 10 journalists were released as a result of this agreement and, as of 28 March, 12 journalists were recorded held in Nepal -- 11 of them, almost all working for pro-Maoist publications, by the Nepalese authorities and one, Dhana Bahadur Rokka Magar, by the Maoists rebels.
Despite some signs of improvement, press freedom and other civil rights continued to be violated even after the ceasefire agreement.
On 29 March, a dozen journalists were assaulted by police while entering a convention centre where senior CPN-Maoist leader and chief negotiator, Baburam Bhattarai, and other leaders of the CPN-Maoist party were gathered. It was the first public appearance of Bhattarai since the beginning of the "People's War" in 1996, and of the CPN-Maoist leaders since the declaration of the ceasefire in January.
CEHURDES reported that the assaulted journalists included Gopal Budhathoki, Vice-President of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists ("FNJ"), Krishna Murari Bhandari and Rajesh K.C., of the daily Kantipur, and journalists Shiva Ganule, Dharmendra Jha, Nawaraj Chalise and Bhagawan Tripathi. The journalists were also denied entry to the convention centre.
In a separate accident, revealing the authorities' disregard for press freedom, Prabhakar Ghimire, a reporter for the Kantipur publication, was harassed by the Minister for Water Resources Deepak Gyawali. Kantipur daily reported that, on 31 March, Minister Gyawali prevented Ghimire from entering a press briefing. The minister stated, "Kantipur is involved in a kind of 'mission journalism' against me. So I refuse to entertain Kantipur journalists."
In a separate event, police officers verbally abused and attempted to beat photojournalists Prakash Mathema, Ravi Manandhar, Sagar Shrestha and Rajesh Gurung, who were taking photographs at a student rally on 9 April. The students were protesting the killing by police of a student leader at a previous demonstration.
During the ceasefire, violations were recorded also in the CPN-Maoist strongholds.
Journalist Padam Raj Poudel, a reporter with the state-owned daily Gorkhapatra, was abducted by the rebels on 6 June; and Bed Prakash Timalsena, a reporter with Kantipur daily, based in far-western Nepal, received death threats by CPN-Maoist cadres, after he ignored an ultimatum to leave the district. The threats followed allegations that Timalsena was spying on Maoist activities in their stronghold areas.
On 18 July, journalist Kedar Katuwal, working for the state-run Rastriya Samachar Samiti ("RSS") news agency, received death threats from CPN-Maoist rebels for allegedly supplying information about the Beltar forest area to security forces. And again, on 28 August, a group of rebels in western Nepal threatened journalist Resham Birahi, who is also the central counsellor of FNJ. According to CEHURDES reports, the rebels warned Birahi that "the ongoing war is a decisive one. So, do not write whatever you feel like writing against us."
In a tragic event, Amar Lama, managing editor of the weekly newspaper Tajakhabar, was shot dead on 27 July by four unidentified gunmen in Naya Bazar, 10 kilometres south of Kathmandu. Lama was a member of the Nepali Congress Party ("NC") and also ran the Jaya Nepal Cultural Academy, an affiliated organisation.
Two more journalists were killed this year in Nepal, one by Maoist rebels and one by security forces. In both cases, the journalists were targeted because of their profession.
Binod Sajana Chaudhary a journalist for the weekly Nepalgunj Express, was killed on 27 September by plainclothes security forces in the Kailali district, western Nepal. Chaudhary, who previously wrote for the now-defunct pro-Maoist weekly Janadesh, was reportedly shot at point-blank range after showing security forces his identity card.
On 7 September, Gyanendra Khadka, a reporter for the RSS news agency was killed by Maoist rebels. According to reports, the rebels entered a school in Jyamire, where Khadka was attending a parents' meeting, took him outside and slit his throat. No motive has been given for his murder.
Only a few days later, on 11 September, police officers brutally broke up a rally organised by journalists' organisations to protest the killing of Khadka; two journalists were injured by police batons at the rally and 30 journalists were arrested on the charge of breaking the government's prohibition orders. From 2 to 26 September, the government had apparently banned all rallies, gatherings and sit-ins, as well as the writing and distribution of pamphlets.
These are just some of the gross acts committed against journalists after the cease-fire ended and the fight between the Maoist rebels and the government resumed in August 2003. In the second half of the year the country witnessed an escalation in violence and, as a result, dozens of journalists were arrested, detained, jailed, threatened, harassed or went missing.
While arrest, detention and other forms of physical violence including torture, have been a common way for Nepal's authorities to silence journalists, those working in the CPN-Maoist strongholds have had to face death threats, physical assaults and expulsions.
The daily Nepal Samacharpatra reported on 24 February that its local reporter Dipak Bahadur Thapa, based in Western Nepal, had been held hostage by CPN-Maoists for three months. According to the reports, the Maoists accused Thapa of writing against the "people's war" and supporting the "reactionary government."
Journalist Rabin Prasad Thapalia received a letter from Maoist cadres on 11 January, urging him to retract a story on Maoist attacks published in the local weekly Ruparekha. Thapalia told FNJ that despite the publication of a retraction in the paper, the CPN-Maoists handed him another letter on 30 January, saying that the statement did not go far enough. The authors of the letter also threatened to kill him if he did not "act accordingly" within 15 days from the date of the letter.
Reports of torture and mistreatment of journalists in detention in Nepal were another reason for concern from international human rights organisations.
Nirmal Kumar Budhathoki, a journalist associated with the now-defunct pro-Maoist daily Janadisha, who had been arrested in May 2002, faced serious psychological problems as a result of torture while in military custody, CEHURDES reported.
The Kathmandu-based human rights organisation CEHURDES also reported that journalist Shiva Tiwari, executive editor of the daily Janadisha, was released on 24 March after 10 months' detention. Tiwari had been arrested on 20 May 2002 in Kathmandu, together with Krishna Sen, who reportedly died in prison in early June 2002 as a result of extensive torture by the security forces. The journalist had been released on two previous occasions -- in November 2002 and February 2003 -- following orders from Nepal's Supreme Court; however, he had immediately been rearrested outside of the prison. After his release, Tiwari told CEHURDES that he was tortured by police and the military.
According to local sources, journalist Sitaram Baral, assistant editor of Janaastha, who was abducted in Katmandu on 13 September and released four days later, was blindfolded and subjected to interrogations and "mental and physical torture," the New York-based CPJ reported.
On 13 November, the Royal Nepal Army ("RNA") in western Nepal arrested journalist Sharad Adhikari, who works for the daily Spacetime and the weekly Janastha. After he was released some hours later, he reported that he was kept in a dark room and beaten by two military officers. Local sources said Adhikari's detention was connected to reports he wrote about the killing of a peasant by the RNA in the Dang district.
Between the end of August, when the cease-fire ended, and the end of the year over 40 journalists have been arrested by security forces, according to the FNJ. Some were jailed; others were detained for a few hours or days, interrogated, their homes and offices raided, and their belongings confiscated; in some cases their whereabouts were not declared, in clear breach of the Nepalese constitution and international human rights provisions. The whereabouts of some journalists were still unknown at year's end.
Among the arrested journalists was IPI member Babita Basnet, editor of the weekly Ghatana Ra Bichar. On 13 November, Basnet was interrogated by members of the Royal Nepal Army, who asked her the source of one of her stories and let her go "under condition that [she]… report to them whenever summoned." As The Kathmandu Post reported, Basnet is an active member of the IPI National Committee in Nepal and the Nepalese women journalist's organisation, "Sancharika Samuha."
The Kathmandu-based Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES) was a primary source for this article
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