Maoist revolt sparks crackdown on press

November 29, 2001 12:00 PM ET

November 29, 2001

Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba
Prime Minister's Office
Singh Durbar
Kathmandu, Kingdom of Nepal

Via fax: +997 1 227286

Your Excellency:

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is extremely concerned about press freedom violations in Nepal during the recently declared State of Emergency.

On November 26, King Gyanendra declared a State of Emergency throughout the country in response to an upsurge of violence between Maoist rebels and government security forces that killed at least 100 people over the weekend.

Articles of the Constitution that have been suspended include those guaranteeing freedom of expression and opinion (Article 12.2a), press and publication rights (Article 13), and the right to information (Article 16). Under Nepalese law, a state of emergency can last for up to six months.

Already, since the imposition of emergency regulations, the government has arrested 10 media workers associated with leftist publications, prevented distribution of one day's edition of the mainstream Kathmandu Post, and issued guidelines warning the media to avoid any coverage that could "harm national dignity."

On November 26, police raided the offices of three publications closely associated with the Maoist movement: the weekly Janadesh, the daily Janadisha, and the monthly Dishabodh. The police arrested nine staff members and also confiscated equipment and written materials. Local sources reported that the detainees could be charged with terrorism, which carries a life prison sentence in Nepal.

The November 26 detainees included:

• Govinda Acharya, editor, Janadesh
• Khil Bahadur Bhandary, executive editor, Janadesh
• Deepak Sapkota, correspondent, Janadesh
• Ram Bhakta Shrestha, computer operator, Janadesh
• Om Sharma, editor, Janadisha
• Deepak Mainali, computer operator, Janadisha
• Dipendra Rokaya, Janadisha
• Ishwarchandra Gyawali, executive editor, Dishabodh

An unidentified Dishabodh employee was also arrested that day, local sources said. Dishabodh computer operator Nim Bahadur Budhathoki was arrested the day before.

Also on November 26, the palace announced that the government could detain suspected terrorists for up to six months without trial. That same day, the Interior Ministry publicly declared the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal (CPN) to be a terrorist organization. The ministry added that any organizations or individuals supporting the CPN and its activities would also be considered terrorists, according to local news reports.

On November 27, the Nepalese army issued a notice to media outlets asking them to seek permission from the army's Information Department before publishing any news about military affairs.
On November 28, the government seized all copies of the Kathmandu Post after the newspaper ran a photo of several Maoist militants, according to sources in Nepal. Government officials then warned the paper's editors not to publish articles or photos that "glorify" the Maoist movement. The Post is Nepal's largest English-language daily.

In a statement issued that same day, the Ministry of Information and Communication listed several proscribed topics, including reports that "create hatred and disrespect against His Majesty the King and the Royal Family," or "harm national dignity, create social disintegration and instigate terror." The statement also encouraged the media to publish official news and reports "regarding bravery and achievements of [the] Royal Nepal Army, police and civil servants."

CPJ protests your government's suspension of constitutional guarantees for press freedom and other civil liberties under the recently declared State of Emergency. As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ urges Nepalese authorities to refrain from using emergency regulations to silence journalists and media outlets that voice controversial views.

In times of national crisis it is especially important that journalists are free to report without fear of arrest or harassment. The nonviolent expression of political views should never be considered a crime. If, as it appears, the ten employees of Janadesh, Janadisha, and Dishabodh have been arrested on the basis of their affiliations with these publications, we demand their immediate and unconditional release.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We await your response.


Sincerely,

Ann K. Cooper
Executive Director

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