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IPI Watch List
IPI Watch List Report
In Nepal, the 12 April 2008 Constituent Assembly elections campaign was plagued by violence against, and efforts to intimidate, journalists. Election results triggered some concern, with the CPN-Maoists, associated with many attacks on journalists, winning the most votes. Nepal was placed on the IPI Watch List at the IPI Board Meeting in Nairobi, Kenya on 21 May 2005.
June 2008 Update
While the 12 April Constituent Assembly (CA) elections were mostly peaceful, the election campaign was plagued by violence against, and efforts to intimidate, journalists. Subsequent developments have also caused concern.
In the two months preceding the elections, IPI Nepal's Press Freedom Monitoring Centre identified a total of 63 press freedom violations. These included 22 physical attacks, as well as threats, cases of property damage, harassment and looting incidents.
Attacks were perpetrated by a wide variety of groups. On 16 February, cadres of the Madheshi People's Rights Forum (MPRF) attacked an editor in the eastern Morang region. Officers of the Armed Police Force were responsible for a 26 February attack against journalists in the central Rautahat district. The journalists, allegedly attacked with wooden sticks while covering police officers’ vandalism of local homes, sustained injuries requiring treatment at a local hospital. On 30 March, MPRF activists in the eastern Sunsari district beat a group of journalists. On 5 April, Maya Adhikari, a radio correspondent, was abducted by cadres of the Communist Party of Nepal – Maoists (CPN-Maoists) in western Nepal for two hours and accused of campaigning for the Nepali Congress (NC) party.
Election results triggered some concern, with the CPN-Maoists, associated with many attacks on journalists, winning the most votes. In an unsettling development, on 30 May, their leader, Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, in a victory speech openly warned a media organization of "serious consequences" if it continued to criticize his party. Prachanda declared that the party would "no longer tolerate criticism", given that it had been elected by the people.
The comment followed several other incidents demonstrating a dangerous lack of respect for the role of the media in democracies. On 27 May, journalist Hemanta Paudel was threatened in Kailali, and journalist Lucky Chaudhari was assaulted by Maoist cadres one day later, for publishing reports about incidents involving Maoists. On 29 May, 11 publications, including seven dailies and four weeklies, were closed in the western district of Kailali due to security concerns stemming from local threats, after a Maoist CA candidate and a cadre attacked journalists and called upon villagers to gather and again attack them.
Journalists have also been assaulted by other groups, including members of the NC Party and security personnel, creating a climate of fear and encouraging self-censorship. For example, shortly after the elections, while votes were still being counted, a radio news coordinator for Janaki FM was threatened by a relative of NC election canditate Bimalendra Nidhi. Karna was threatened over news questioning the fairness of the vote counting. On 15 May, two journalists from western Nepal received death threats from police officers for reporting on police activities in a border area where much smuggling occurs.
Recently, the country witnessed a positive development with regard to its Right to Information Act (RTI), ratified in 2007, with the formation of the National Information Commission, set up to implement the law.
November 2007 Update
In recent months, Nepal has witnessed some positive political developments; nevertheless, widespread disrespect for press freedom still affects journalists and media outlets.
While the end of King Gyanendra’s direct rule in April 2006, the subsequent Peace Agreement, as well as the 18 July unanimous approval by the Legislature-Parliament of the Right to Information Act represent improvements for Nepal’s press freedom, violence against journalists is unabated. The Maoists, and other rebel groups, particularly in the southern Terai region, or Madhesh, have attacked journalists either for not covering their activities or for covering them in a negative light.
Two journalists were killed in Nepal in September and October 2007, and one has been mission since the beginning of July. In one case, that of Birendra Shah, Bara district correspondent for Nepal FM, Dristi weekly, and Avenues TV, investigations carried out by the government as a consequence of strong local and international pressure showed that the killing was ordered by a local Maoist cadre. Shah had written various articles critical of the Maoists.
On 14 September, the body of Shankar Panthi, correspondent for the local pro-Maoist Naya Satta daily in the western district of Nawalparasi, was found by the roadside. The journalist was returning from covering a news event at the time of his death. Police said the journalist died in an accident. However, Panthi's suspicious death sparked protests and the Association of Revolutionary Journalists called for a thorough investigation to exclude Panthi’s murder in connection with his work.
Prakash Singh Thakuri, Editor and Publisher of the royalist newspaper Aajako Samachar, went missing in the western town of Mahendranagar on 5 July. Three days later, a group calling itself the National Republican Army of Nepal said it was behind his kidnapping and it had killed the journalist because of his articles supporting King Gyanendra.
In August, IPI complained about the disruption caused to Nepalese newspapers by the All Nepal Communication, Printing and Publication Workers Union (CPPWU) as well as threats against journalists issued by the Union. In particular, the publication of the Himalayan Times and the Annapurna Post dailies was disrupted by the CPPWU, which sought to prevent distribution of the newspapers for carrying unfavourable news reports about the Union. Similar attacks continued in September, when CPPWU prevented the printing of Kantipur Daily and The Kathmandu Post.
Many journalists throughout Nepal were physically attacked, threatened and harassed in the past six months because of their reports on corruption, smuggling and other illegal activities or because of their profession. Such attacks have become a common way of silencing journalists. In addition, while police, local leaders, armed groups and individuals show equal disrespect for press freedom and for the media’s most important role in the democratisation process, the state is unable to protect journalists and ensure their ability to report freely.
The upcoming Constitutional Assembly elections, scheduled for January or February 2008, represent a vital step in Nepal’s peace and democratisation processes. The fairness of these elections will depend greatly on the media’s ability to report freely on them.
May 2007 Update
In January, representatives of the Maoist insurgents took up their seats in the Nepalese legislature and there are fresh hopes that the 12-year old civil conflict that destabilised the country is now firmly in the past. To support the ongoing democratisation process in Nepal, a United Nations monitoring and electoral assistance mission is disarming combatants and this is additional proof that positive changes are occurring.
However, future hopes rest on the Interim Constitution that entered into force on 15 January. The Interim Constitution will bind the Maoist insurgents into the peace process, but it has not been without its critics. In its own 5 March review of the Interim Constitution, the London-based press freedom organisation, Article 19, said guarantees of freedom of expression were subject to limitations and that prior forms of censorship were embedded in the text.
In the wider media environment, some of the old problems persist. Journalists face threats and violence from a range of different actors, including, police, members of political parties, armed groups, the military and strikers. The Maoist insurgency has also issued its own threats and has briefly kidnapped journalists.
On 2 February, officers of the Armed forces beat photojournalists Nitesh Mathema of the daily Bypass and Ram Saraf of the Annapurna Post. Some days later, individuals allegedly from the Madhesi Janatantrik Forum (MJF) beat five other journalists; in Birgunj, police attacked two journalists on 6 February while covering a protest. All of these attacks were loudly condemned by local and international press freedom organisations.
There have also been attempts to hinder newspaper distribution. On 24 February, members of the Tharu Kalyankari Sabha (TKS) political group attempted to stop the publisher, marketing manager and a journalist of the Rajbiraj Today from distributing the newspaper in the eastern district of Nepal.
During late February, there were continuing problems with threats from various groups when strike organisers threatened to burn down the house of photojournalist Roshan Neupane in the central Terai district of Nepal. The journalist had been taking photographs of a scuffle between strikers and citizens in Newalpur. Neupane was warned not to publish the pictures and was followed to his house, surrounded and told his house would be raised to the ground if he disobeyed.
The attacks on journalists continued in March. On 9 March, Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) attacked journalists Santosh Yadav of Rajdhani Daily and Anil Adhikari of The Blast newspaper. Yaday suffered serious head injuries from the attack in Sunsari.
In April, journalists received threats from Maoists for their reporting on clashes between the insurgents and locals at Bashmadi. On 19 April, Rameshwor Bohara, a correspondent with Himal and Damodar Bhandari, with the daily Annapurna, were detained by Maoists in Rolpa while working. They were released hours later.
November 2006 Update
The Nepalese media, which was left fighting for its survival following the Royal coup of 1 February 2005, has received some breathing space since the restoration of democracy in April 2006 with many of the repressive media ordinances put in place during Royal rule having since been rescinded by Parliament. Despite these changes, significant media reform is needed to meet the country’s current challenges.
A number of important steps were taken after the restoration of democracy in April 2006 to create a less restrictive media environment. On 18 May the Supreme Court struck out Article 8 of the 1992 National Broadcasting Act and Article 15(1) of the 1991 Publications and Newspapers Act, deeming both to be unconstitutional. The first article gave the government the right to cancel the licenses of radio and TV stations that broadcast news, the latter allowed the government to restrict or censor coverage of sensitive topics.
On 2 June, the one-door advertising policy introduced by the Royal government was scrapped by the Council of Ministers. On 11 June, the government also scrapped the Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Ordinance (TADO), used to detain journalists for prolonged periods.
On 13 June, the government established a High Level Media Suggestions Commission to provide expert advice on media policy for the upcoming Interim Constitution. Among others, the seven-person Commission included IPI Nepal Chapter General-Secretary Babita Basnet.
In its report to Prime Minister Koirala on 15 September the Commission asserted that although most of the restrictions imposed during the Royal coup had been reversed, many further changes were necessary to protect media independence.
A comprehensive reform of media law was stated as a priority. Defamation remains a criminal offence in Nepal and security legislation places undue restrictions on the right to publish. A review of the provisions related to press freedom and freedom of expression in the draft Interim Constitution was also called for as the draft differs little from the 1990 Constitution and does not fully reflect current international standards or developments in electronic and new media.
The need for the privatisation of state media outlets and for more comprehensive legislation guaranteeing the right to access to information are also key reforms that must be made to ensure the Nepalese media can carry out their watchdog role.
Serious concerns remain for the safety of journalists working in Nepal. Incidents of journalists being assaulted by police in reprisal for critical writing have been reported in recent months as have attacks on journalists and on newspaper and radio stations by political interest groups.
Threats against journalists by Maoist groups also continue despite statements made by Maoist Chairman Prachanda that his party was committed to press freedom. Maoist groups have blocked journalists’ access to events, padlocked newspaper offices and confiscated equipment. Detentions and assaults by Maoist soldiers have also been reported, including one incident where a photojournalist was beaten.
May 2006 Update
The new political situation in Nepal will undoubtedly lead to significant changes in the country, but questions loom over how quickly and fully democratic freedoms will be restored.
After 14 months of direct rule in which most civil liberties were suspended and the independent media was the victim of harsh repression, King Gyanendra relinquished power on 21 April following weeks of protest. Veteran politician GP Koirala was appointed as prime minister soon after.
As the country debates the form and content of a new Constitution, journalists and observers in Nepal and the international community, expect representatives of the Seven Party Alliance to live up to their commitments to ensure the rights of the independent media are protected.
From 20-25 March, IPI took part in a press freedom mission to Nepal. The mission found that intimidation, harassment, attacks and detention of media professionals had continued without interruption and that, particularly in the districts where media are more vulnerable to interference from the state and from Maoists, self-censorship was widely reported.
More sophisticated methods of intimidation, such as the "One-Door advertisement policy" were being used to silence critical media. Thousands of journalists were out of work and hundreds of media outlets were on the brink of financial collapse.
Journalist groups were at the forefront of the April "people’s revolution" and have campaigned tirelessly for the restoration of democracy. During the April protests, dozens of journalists were beaten, detained and arrested, a sign that media professionals remained vulnerable to attack.
With the restoration of democracy, significant changes are needed to help restore the beleaguered press. On 9 May, the Council of Ministers announced they had annulled the controversial media ordinance introduced by the royal government in October 2005. The media ordinance amended numerous media-related laws in order to ban the broadcast of news over FM radio and to raise licensing fees for FM stations among other repressive measures.
The current government is also working on rescinding the draconian Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act (TADO), legislation that has arbitrarily detained media practitioners.
Amidst these welcome changes, media rights groups in Nepal are urging the new government to allow the independent media to operate with the same freedom it enjoyed following the 1990 restoration of democracy.
These groups argue that for this to happen, the three journalists who remain in prison must be released, all restrictive laws and ordinances must be repealed and state-controlled Radio Nepal, Nepal Television and the daily newspapers Gorkhapatra and the Rising Nepal must be converted into cooperatives or publicly run enterprises.
The removal of the "One Door Advertising Policy" and the reversal of the postage fees, drastically increased after the Royal takeover, are also imperative if independent media outlets are to strengthen their financial capacity.
November 2005 Update
Nepalese press freedom has been rapidly declining throughout the year. Caught up in increasing tension between Maoist rebels and the constitutional monarchy, the country is fast becoming one of the most dangerous places to practice journalism.
In June 2005, a campaign of mass arrests against journalists peacefully protesting their right to report led to the detention of hundreds of media workers. Since then accounts of intimidation, harassment, assault and kidnappings continue to be reported. Thousands of journalists made unemployed when the state banned all radio news reporting remain out of work, and the state's advertising embargo on "non-cooperative" publications has caused small to medium sized newspapers to stop publishing, while others are close to collapse.
From 10-16 July, IPI representatives joined an international press freedom mission to Nepal to investigate the treatment of journalists. Participants met with dozens of journalists and editors from the Kathmandu Valley and took part in meetings with government ministers, senior officials of the Royal Nepal Army, civil society representatives and members of the IPI Nepal National Chapter.
The IPI representatives also travelled outside the capital where conditions are even more unstable. Local journalists said that while Maoist rebels, as well as state security forces are targeting journalists, the emergence of armed "vigilante" groups is also a threat to media practitioners. District media are at a greater risk of interference from combatants and also face greater challenges as they try to report from isolated areas using limited infrastructure.
Despite pressure from the mission participants as well as interventions from a number of inter-governmental organizations to restore civil liberties, press freedom violations continue. On 9 October the King promulgated a media ordinance that consolidates many of the "temporary" restrictions imposed during the State of Emergency from 2 February to 29 April 2005 and incorporates tighter provisions for content, ownership and penalties into the press laws in the 1990 constitution.
In mid-October, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, in coordination with a number of professional organizations and civil society groups, challenged the ordinance at the Supreme Court. While the Court has not ruled, the Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) is now enforcing the new regulations. The Ministry has issued strong warnings against radio stations in particular, promising to penalize those who defy the ordinance.
In early November, the MoIC threatened to revoke the broadcasting license of leading private sector radio station Kantipur FM if it refused to stop its news and information programming. The ultimatum came after Nepalese police raided Kantipur FM's Lalitpur station on 21 October and removed equipment. Recently several non-profit radio stations have said they may be forced to cease operations because of the increased censorship controls.
Along with restrictions on FM radio stations, the ordinance calls for increased protection from public scrutiny for the King and Royal Family, includes provision in the penal code to imprison journalists convicted of defamation and increases financial penalties for press law violations.
Working conditions for Nepalese journalists have further deteriorated in recent weeks as a state campaign of mass arrests have threatened their personal safety as well as their right to practice their profession.
In the two months since King Gyanendra lifted the state of emergency in the country, tactics used to silence journalists and media workers have become even more aggressive.
To protest against the Kings rigid restrictions on the media, since early June, thousands of journalists have taken part in nationwide peaceful demonstrations to demand that press freedom be restored. Some protestors have used loudspeakers to shout news reports as they march through the street, using one of the only methods still available to disseminate information as the ban on political reporting through print, television and radio continues.
Hundreds of journalists in several different regions have been arrested since the demonstrations began. The first mass arrest occurred on 8 June when 50 journalists taking part in a peaceful protest near the royal palace in Kathmandu were rounded up by police and held in detention centres for more than 18 hours.
In the week that followed, journalists in Kavre, Butwal, Kalaiya and other cities were arrested as they held demonstrations to show support for their detained colleagues in Kathmandu and to send a clear message to the royal government that they would denounce any plans to amend the media law to make emergency press restrictions permanent.
The law is currently under review and the Ministry of Information and Communication (MoIC) has proposed changes that increase penalties for violating the law, place further restrictions on media ownership and intensify state control of news content. It would also codify the prohibition on any news that causes "hatred" or "disrespect" of the King or criticises the government or the security forces.
During some of the protests police intervened forcefully using batons to attack the crowd with dozens of injuries being reported. In the city of Kalaiya, in the Bara district, journalist Guru Prasad Gautam was seriously hurt when a policeman used the butt of his rifle to beat Gautam in the stomach.
The protests have been led by the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), with the support of various professional organizations, human rights groups and political parties. The FNJ has been urging the government to live up to its commitment to reinstate human rights after the state of emergency was lifted on 30 April.
Despite the assurance given to the international community that freedoms would be restored, fundamental rights continue to be ignored. The ban on political activity is still in place and this months' barrage of mass arrests shows that Nepalese citizens are forcefully being denied the right to free association.
Furthermore, the state reinforced restrictions on press freedom when it chose to ignore the Supreme Court's decision to reverse a closure ordered issued by the MoIC against the media centre Communications Corner. The 7 June ruling came in response to an action filed in early May by Communications Corner Director Gopal Guragain who was forced to close the centre after the ban on radio news broadcasts. In reaching its decision the Supreme Court declared that the actions of the Ministry were "illegal."
MoIC statements that amendments to the media law would make the ban on radio news broadcasts permanent, have met with intense criticism. The Ministry says the ban will only apply to "specific news programmes" but if the establishment of guidelines is left to the MoIC, it is likely that the policy of censorship will continue and that the hundreds of journalists who have been unable to work as a result of the ban, will not be reinstated.
Journalists are also facing pressure from Maoist rebels who have issued threats in recent weeks against reporters who are critical of their activities. At least two journalists have been kidnapped by Maoists since May. Bikram Giri, a correspondent for the daily Kantipur, was abducted on 3 June in the western district of Darchula. He was released one week later on 10 June.
Journalist Som Sharma, who was abducted on 13 May is still being held by Maoist rebels. In letters written to his family from captivity, Sharma said that he was in poor health and that he was kidnapped in retribution for reporting critically on the group.
On 30 April, international pressure forced Nepal's King to lift the State of Emergency imposed on 1 February 2005. The decision came after he returned from his visit to Indonesia, China and Singapore, where leaders pressed him to restore democracy in the kingdom.
Despite the lifting of the State of Emergency, press freedom has not been restored and the ban on political activities remains in place. Furthermore, former Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, who was dismissed and placed under house arrest following the King's assumption of absolute powers on 1 February, was arrested on 27 April on alleged corruption charges.
Nepal's King has been under strong international pressure after the imposition of the emergency rule. Nepal's key allies, India and Great Britain, suspended crucial arms supplies. Observers say that the King's decision is a tactical move designed to appease allies and acknowledge that the King appears unwilling to restore true democracy.
As a consequence, articles of the Nepalese Constitution protecting people's fundamental rights - such as the Right to Freedom (Article 12) (Freedom of thought and expression; Freedom to assemble peacefully and without arms; Freedom to move and reside in any part of Nepal); the Press and Publication Right (Article 13); and the Right to Information (Article 16), among others - are suspended.
Furthermore, since the King's take-over on 1 February, censorship of the media has been complete. A February directive issued by Nepal's Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) banned FM radio stations from broadcasting any news - including opinions and commentaries - unless the security forces issue it. Security personnel have continued to visit, censor and monitor media houses and publication groups.
On 2 February, the Nepalese government issued an order banning the media from printing, publishing or airing anything that is against "the spirit and letter of the 1 February royal proclamation and supports and encourages the activities of the terrorists directly or indirectly". The order remains in place.
The MoIC issued a notice on 1 March stating, "Publishing or broadcasting interviews, articles, news, information, reading materials, opinions or personal views that directly or indirectly instigate or support terrorist and disruptive activities is prohibited and liable to punishment…"
In addition, the Chief District Officer of Kathmandu summoned the editors of all the broadsheet national dailies to a meeting and informed them that they are only to publish news about the Maoist insurgents if it is issued by government security agencies. In addition to the censorship, journalists and human rights activists have been detained and arrested.
On 3 May, World Press Freedom Day, over 1,000 Nepali editors and reporters participated in a rally in Kathmandu, demanding the release of their arrested colleagues and a lifting of curbs on the media. The FNJ says that at least six journalists remain in detention and more than 2,000 have lost their jobs since the 1 February royal take-over due to the censorship rules.
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