Nepal Attacks Press
Journalists Targeted in Government Campaign Against Maoist Rebels
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His Excellency Girija Prasad
Koirala Prime Minister
Office of the Prime Minister
Singh Durbar
Kathmandu, Nepal

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6 July 1998

 

Your Excellency:

 

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply troubled by reports that your government's recent crackdown on Maoist rebels is not confined to military action against armed elements of the opposition, but has expanded to include censorship and harassment of the Nepalese press. CPJ is further disturbed by reports that journalists' access to the government ministries housed in Singh Durbar has been severely curtailed, and that admission to Parliament has been reserved for a select number of credentialed reporters.

According to information released by Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) in Paris, police in Kathmandu on 2 July instructed transport firms not to deliver newspapers containing articles on the government's operations against Maoist rebels. Police also burned copies of offending papers that had already been loaded onto trucks and buses. Since 9 June, local police in districts where there has been some support for the Maoist movement have been confiscating newspapers in order to block the distribution of any information regarding rebel activities. The news daily Ajko Samacharpatra and weeklies Jadanesh, Janaahwan, Yojana, Jana Ekta, and Jana Bhawana all published in Kathmandu&emdash;have been seized by police in Sindhulimadhi. Similar seizures have been reported in Gorkha, Sindhuli, Rukum, Salyan, Tanahun, Dhading, and Jajarkot.

The People's Review, a political and business weekly published in Kathmandu, reports that journalists in Nepal are currently facing harassment and violent intimidation by both government forces and Maoist insurgents. In one particularly disturbing case in early April, journalist Kishore Shrestha was arrested and taken to military headquarters, where he was pressured to disclose the source for his article in the weekly Jana Aastha entitled "Confidential document of military in Maoists' hand."

There is widespread suspicion in Nepal that, far from being isolated incidents, these actions have been directed by the Home Ministry as part of a strategy to contain the rebel movement. CPJ understands that Home Minister Govind Raj Joshi has denied any knowledge of the crackdown, yet the mere perception of governmental sponsorship or sanctioning of such activities contributes to a climate of fear that threatens free speech. These charges must therefore be met with decisive and public official action to investigate the attacks and punish the attackers.

Your government has repeatedly voiced its respect for a free press, understanding that independent journalism played a significant role in helping to establish democracy in Nepal. CPJ asks that you recognize that print journalism in Nepal is an inherently difficult business, faced with the daunting challenges of distributing papers across extraordinarily rough terrain and building circulation among a public where high rates of poverty and illiteracy still prevail. The economic strains on the press have been compounded by last year's decision to levy a tax on all foreign newsprint. The publishing industry in Nepal depends on imported paper, and this additional cost of doing business has introduced undue pressure on an already vulnerable industry.

As a non-partisan organization of journalists committed to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ urges your government to support the growth of a vibrant press by respecting the right of all journalists to publish and distribute information, regardless of its political content. We respectfully request that your government investigate and order an end to the recent police actions against the press, lift restrictions on journalists' access to government offices, and repeal the crippling tax that has been placed on foreign newsprint.

Thank you for your attention. We await your response.

 

Yours Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper

Executive Director