New York, March 20, 2000 — Jagdish Bhattarai, editor of the Nepali-language weekly Nava Janachetana (“New Public Conscience”), was released yesterday from Palpa Jail, where he had served one week after being found guilty of contempt of court.
The charge stemmed from an editorial about corruption in the local judiciary, headlined “Saviors of Justice Corrupt,” that appeared in the January 11, 1999, edition of Nava Janachetana. The Palpa District Court initiated contempt proceedings against Bhattarai on January 16, and delivered the guilty verdict on August 12. Judge Raghu Nath Aryal sentenced Bhattarai to seven days in prison and ordered him to pay a fine of 500 rupees (US$7). The court told Bhattarai that the sentence would be waived if he published an apology within six months.
Bhattarai stood by his story and refused to publish an apology. The court had notified the journalist, who is also Palpa district correspondent for the English-language daily Kathmandu Post and its sister paper, the Nepali-language Kantipur Daily, that he could be arrested after February 10, 2000. On March 12, Bhattarai turned himself in at Palpa Jail to serve his sentence.
“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, according to the Kathmandu Post.