CPJ welcomes journalists’ release, but says sedition charges should be dropped

New York, June 18, 2001 — Three journalists with the Nepali-language daily Kantipur, Yubaraj Ghimire, Kailash Shirohiya, and Binod Raj Gyawali, were released from jail on June 15. They face a trial next month on sedition charges stemming from an opinion piece that suggested a conspiracy behind the assassination of Nepal’s royal family.

“We are pleased that Yubaraj Ghimire, Kailash Shirohiya, and Binod Raj Gyawali are again free and can go back to work, but the sedition charges themselves should be withdrawn,” said CPJ deputy director Joel Simon. “The ability to publish even the most controversial opinions without fear of reprisal is essential to maintaining a free press.”

A three-judge panel of Nepal’s special court rejected the government’s argument that the journalists be kept in jail during their trial. Ghimire, editor of Kantipur, the country’s largest Nepali newspaper, was released on bail of 2000 rupees (US$27). Gyawali, Kantipur’s director, and Shirohiya, its managing director, were released without posting bail. All three were arrested on June 6. They have been ordered to appear in court on July 16 to face charges of sedition.

The article in question was written by a Maoist rebel leader, Baburam Bhattarai, who challenged official and media accounts of the June 1 palace massacre, in which Nepal’s King Birendra and nine other members of the royal family were killed. Bhattarai criticized newly crowned King Gyanendra and called on Nepal’s army to take action to “safeguard the nation, although they could not save their king.”