A year of extraordinary violence and political upheaval severely strained Nepal’s young democracy and posed profound challenges for the country’s media. Scores of journalists were detained after the declaration of emergency regulations in November, and 17 remained in prison at year’s end.
The first major crisis for the press in 2001 began on June 1, when Crown Prince Dipendra shot and killed his parents, King Birendra and Queen Aishwarya, and seven other relatives before turning the gun on himself. The government’s initial reluctance to discuss the details of the tragedy publicly, followed by shifting official accounts of the murders, helped feed a welter of conspiracy theories.
In the days following the massacre, the English-language daily Kathmandu Post reported that “the public mood is changing from spontaneous outburst of grief to anxiety and frustration over not being able to get the ‘real facts’ of the unfortunate incident.” Journalists said that angry demonstrators in the capital city of Katmandu were protesting not only against the government for withholding information but also against the foreign media for reporting that their crown prince was a murderer.
An official report eventually concluded that Dipendra had committed the shooting spree while under the influence of drugs and alcohol, but many Nepalese have refused to accept that explanation. Eyewitnesses and sources close to the royal family have said that Dipendra was enraged by his mother’s refusal to allow him to marry the woman he loved.
During the uncertain days following the palace massacre, government attempts to squelch the rumors included arresting three journalists from Nepal’s leading daily, Kantipur, on charges of treason. Authorities arrested them on June 6, after the paper published a column by Baburam Bhattarai, a senior leader of Nepal’s Maoist rebels, suggesting that the royal murders were the result of an international conspiracy. Yubaraj Ghimire, Kantipur‘s editor-in-chief, told The New York Times that the decision to publish Bhattarai’s column was consistent with his newspaper’s policy of airing the uncensored views of “every person whose opinion is important to the nation.”
Ghimire and two of his colleagues were detained for nine days before a Special Court panel ordered their release pending trial. After strenuous protests from local and international groups, including CPJ, the government dropped the case.
Since 1990, when King Birendra transformed Nepal from an absolute monarchy in response to pro-democracy demonstrations, the press has stoutly defended its freedoms against occasional government interference. However, nothing in the country’s relatively brief history of democracy could have prepared journalists for the struggle they faced after November 26, when King Gyanendra–Birendra’s brother, crowned following the royal massacre–declared a state of emergency in response to a spate of killings by Maoist rebels.
Maoist insurgents, who model their movement after Peru’s Shining Path, have been fighting since 1996 to topple Nepal’s constitutional monarchy. By the end of 2001, the conflict had claimed more than 2,000 lives. While many Nepalese abhor the rebels’ violent tactics, much of the public sympathizes with the Maoists’ stated plans to redistribute land and reform a political system that has done little to alleviate widespread poverty. Journalists who report on rebel activities, or who work for publications seen as sympathetic to the Maoist cause, have long faced government persecution, but these dangers increased sharply after November.
Under the emergency order, the king suspended articles of the constitution guaranteeing some of Nepal’s most cherished civil liberties, including press freedom. The king also issued an ordinance permitting authorities to detain suspected terrorists without trial for six months, and the Interior Ministry declared the Maoist Communist Party of Nepal a “terrorist organization.” On the very day these orders were issued, police raided the offices of three publications believed to be associated with the Maoist movement and arrested nine media workers.
On November 27, the Nepalese army issued a notice informing media outlets that they should seek permission from the army’s Information Department before publishing any news about military affairs.
On November 28, authorities seized all copies of the Kathmandu Post after the newspaper ran a photo of several Maoist militants. Government officials warned the paper’s editors not to publish articles or photos that “glorify” the Maoist movement. The same day, the Ministry of Information and Communication issued a statement listing 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.”
Journalists told CPJ that they were alarmed to see how swiftly and easily their rights could be curtailed. Many were disappointed that the international community failed to challenge the government’s sweeping restrictions. A U.S. government spokesman said on November 30 that Washington was not worried about Nepal because “we hear from most mainstream journalists in Nepal that they’re confident that they and their work will not be affected by the restrictions.” That statement was met with surprise and frustration by some of the country’s leading reporters and editors.
The Federation of Nepalese Journalists reported that more than 50 media workers were detained in the weeks following the declaration of emergency regulations. CPJ confirmed that 17 remained in jail as of December 31. Journalists also complained that they were banned from covering military operations against the rebels, and that government efforts to keep the media informed about casualty figures and other details of the civil war were at best inadequate and at worst, not credible.
Krishna Sen, Janadesh
IMPRISONED, HARASSED, MISSING
Sen, editor of the weekly Janadesh, contacted journalists and asked them to appear at Rajbiraj Jail the next morning, when he expected to be released, following a March 8 Supreme Court ruling that his long detention violated Nepal’s habeus corpus protections. But when the press arrived at the jail on March 11, Hom Nath Khatri, a prison official, told them that Sen had been released the previous night. Local journalists and human rights advocates promptly reported him missing.
Police first arrested Sen in Kathmandu on April 19, 1999, and detained him under provisions of the Public Security Act, which allows preventive detention of those considered to be a threat to domestic security and tranquility. CPJ believes the arrest was prompted by that week’s edition of Janadesh, which featured an interview with Baburam Bhattarai, one of the leaders of the Maoist insurgency in Nepal. On the day Sen was arrested, police reportedly confiscated 20,000 copies of the weekly in order to prevent the interview from being widely read.
The Supreme Court first ordered Sen’s release on August 10, 1999. But according to his attorney, Yekraj Bhandari, police and district officials conspired to keep the journalist in detention by forging release papers and then rearresting him days later on false charges.
Prison authorities forced Sen to sign papers certifying his release from Bhadragol Jail in Kathmandu on February 9, 2000, according to Bhandari. Sen was not released, however. Instead, he was secretly transferred to the southeastern district of Siraha, where police said he was detained on February 13. Authorities then charged him with carrying illegal weapons under the provisions of the Arms and Ammunitions Act. Around August 2000, Sen was transferred yet again, this time to Rajbiraj Jail.
Legal proceedings in Sen’s case were postponed repeatedly throughout 2000. On March 8, 2001, the Supreme Court of Nepal ruled his detention illegal and ordered his release.
On March 12, CPJ sent a letter to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala asking him to ensure that the Supreme Court’s order was enforced, and to confirm publicly that Sen had been released. Under mounting national and international pressure, the government ordered Sen’s release from Jaleswor Jail, in Mahottari District, where he had been transferred after his purported March 10 “release” from Rajbiraj Jail.
On the afternoon of March 15, Sen was turned over to a delegation from the Federation of Nepalese Journalists.
Yubaraj Ghimire, Kantipur
Kailash Shirohiya, Kantipur Publications
Binod Raj Gyawali, Kantipur Publications
Ghimire, editor of the Nepali-language daily Kantipur; Shirohiya, managing director of Kantipur Publications; and Gyawali, director of the publishing house, were arrested at around 6 p.m. and told they were being charged with treason, according to sources in Kathmandu.
The charges stemmed from that day’s edition of Kantipur, which contained an article by Maoist rebel leader Baburam Bhattarai that called on Nepalese citizens to reject the newly crowned King Gyanendra as a “puppet of Indian expansionist forces.”
Bhattarai’s article also challenged official and media accounts of the June 1 palace massacre, in which King Birendra and nine other members of the royal family were killed. Bhattarai criticized the new king and called on Nepal’s army to take action to “safeguard the nation, although they could not save their king.”
All three journalists were released on June 15, though Ghimire was required to post bail of 2,000 rupees (US$27). They were ordered to appear in court on July 16 to face sedition charges.
The July 16 trial was postponed, and on August 17, the government withdrew the charges against the three journalists.
CPJ issued a June 6 statement condemning the journalists’ arrest, a June 12 letter to Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala protesting their prolonged detention, and a June 18 press release urging that the sedition charges be withdrawn.
THREATENED, LEGAL ACTION
On Monday, November 26, King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency and suspended civil liberties, including press freedom, in response to an upsurge of violence between Maoist rebels and government security forces that killed at least 100 people over the previous weekend.
Articles of the constitution that were suspended included 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.
The palace also announced on November 26 that the government could detain suspected terrorists for up to six months without trial. That same day, the Interior Ministry publicly declared the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) to be a terrorist organization. The ministry added that any organizations or individuals supporting the CPN-M and its activities would also be considered terrorists, according to local news reports.
On November 29, CPJ sent a letter to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba protesting the government’s use of the emergency measures to harass and persecute journalists who report on rebel activities or who work for publications seen as sympathetic to the Maoist cause.
Om Sharma, Janadisha
Dipendra Rokaya, Janadisha
Govinda Acharya, Janadesh
Khil Bahadur Bhandari, Janadesh
Deepak Sapkota, Janadesh
Manarishi Dhital, Dishabodh
Ishwarchandra Gyawali, Dishabodh
On November 26, police raided the offices of three publications closely associated with Nepal’s Maoist movement: the daily Janadisha, the weekly Janadesh, and the monthly Dishabodh. The police arrested nine staff members, including seven journalists, and also confiscated equipment and written materials. The arrested journalists included Sharma, an editor for Janadisha; Rokaya, whose position at Janadisha was not known; Archarya, an editor of Janadesh; Bhandari, executive editor of Janadesh; Sapkota, a reporter for Janadesh; Dhital, a reporter for Dishabodh; and Gyawali, executive editor of Dishabodh.
All were arrested about two hours before the government declared a state of emergency and enacted the Terrorist and Destructive Activities (Control and Punishment) ordinance, which named the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) a terrorist organization and therefore illegal. The government announcement also stipulated that any organizations or individuals supporting the CPN-M and its activities would be considered terrorists, according to local news reports. Under the new regulations, terrorism carries a life sentence.
On January 9, 2002, lawyers for the journalists filed a habeas corpus petition to the Supreme Court, which then issued a show cause notice to the government. The government responded that six of the journalists were charged under the terrorism ordinance for engaging in activities supporting the Maoist movement, according to a lawyer for the journalists. At press time, the government had not yet issued a response for Om Sharma’s case, and the hearing date for all the cases would not be set until it did. The defense lawyers argue that the journalists’ detention is illegal because they were arrested before the terrorist ordinance was officially declared.
The Ministry of Information and Communication issued a directive prohibiting press coverage of numerous topics related to the country’s civil war. The directive came after King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency on November 26, when the government suspended civil liberties, including press freedom. 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.”
The ministry did not specify the penalties for violating the November 28 order.
“Matters not to be published [or] broadcast” included:
a. “Anything that aims to create hatred and disrespect against His Majesty the King and the Royal Family.”
b. “Anything that is likely to harm [the] sovereignty and territorial integrity of the Kingdom of Nepal.”
c. “Anything that disturbs security, peace and order in the Kingdom of Nepal.”
d. “Anything that is likely to create misunderstanding and communal hatred among the people of different castes, communities, religions, classes and regions.”
e. “Anything that is likely to hurt the decent behavior, morale, and social dignity of people.”
f. “News that [is] against the spirit of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1990.”
g. “News that hurts the fundamental values of multi-party democracy.”
h. “Anything that is likely to harm national dignity, create social disintegration and instigate terror.”
i. “Anything that is likely to create hatred against [the] Royal Nepal Army, police and civil servants and lower their moral[s] and dignity.”
j. “News that support[s] Maoist terrorist[s] including individual[s] or groups.”
k. “Any matters that aim at overthrowing elected government.”
l. “Matters that are likely to create unusual fear and terror among people.”
m. “Matters that misinterpret and disrespect and underestimate any caste, language, religion and culture.”
The government seized all copies of the Kathmandu Post, the country’s largest English-language daily, 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.
In a statement issued the 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.”
On Monday, November 26, King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency throughout the country in response to increasing violence between Maoist rebels and government forces that killed at least 100 people over the previous weekend.
The decree suspended several articles of the constitution, including those guaranteeing freedom of the press.
CPJ protested these abrogations in a November 29 letter to Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.
Dev Kumar Yadav, Janadesh
Yadav, a reporter for the weekly Janadesh, was arrested in Siraha. Although the circumstances surrounding his detention were unclear, at year’s end he was being held in Siraha, according to the Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), a Kathmandu-based human rights organization.
Ganga Bista, Nepal Television, Chautari Times
Shankar Khanal, Radio Nepal, Spacetime Daily
Bista, a reporter for Nepal Television and Chautari Times, and Khanal, a reporter for Radio Nepal and Spacetime Daily, were arrested by the army along with Nepal Samacharpatra reporter Indira Giri, according to INSEC. Giri was released on December 6.
Sama Thapa, Yugayan
After his arrest in Kailali District, Thapa, publisher of Yugayan, was brought to the local police station in Tikapur, according to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) and INSEC. He was then shifted to the Regional Police Unit Office in Dhangadhi, where he was being held at year’s end.
Chitra Choudhary, Nawa Paricharcha
Choudhary is an adviser-editor of Nawa Paricharcha weekly in Tikapur and the former editor-in-chief of Yugayan. He was also the principal of the National Lower Secondary School in Patharaiya. School personnel arrested him on the morning of December 6. He was brought with Sama Thapa to police stations in Tikapur and Dhangadhi. At year’s end, he was being held in Army Barracks, Dhangadhi, according to INSEC.
Komal Nath Baral, Swaviman
Baral, an editor at Swaviman weekly, was arrested at his home in Kaski district, Pokhara, according to FNJ and INSEC.
Prem Bahadur Diyali, Blast Daily
Diyali, a reporter at Blast Daily, was arrested by police at his residence in Sunsari District, according to FNJ and INSEC. He was put under preventive detention on December 23. Local journalists have said Blast, based in Dharan, was targeted because it had published reports criticizing local leaders.
Badri Prasad Sharma, Baglung Weekly
Sharma, editor and publisher of Baglung Weekly, was arrested by security personnel from his house in Baglung, according to INSEC and FNJ.
Chandra Man Shrestha, Janadisha
Shrestha, a managing director at the daily Janadisha, was arrested from Maharajgunj, Kathmandu. His whereabouts were unknown at year’s end.
Janardan Biyogi, Swaviman
Biyogi, a subeditor of Swaviman weekly, was arrested by the army in Kaski District, Pokhara, according to FNJ.
Pushkar Lal Shrestha, Nepal Samacharpatra
Kapil Kafle, Nepal Samacharpatra
Shrestha, publisher and editor-in-chief of Nepal Samacharpatra, and Kafle, an editor at the paper, were summoned for interrogation by Chief District Officer Kirti Bahadur Chand, the country’s top law enforcement official.
Chand telephoned Shrestha and ordered him and Kafle to visit his office immediately to discuss an article in that day’s paper that quoted the leader of Nepal’s Maoist rebels. Chand told the journalists to refrain from publishing any statements from the Communist Party of Nepal’s Maoist faction, which the government declared a “terrorist organization” on November 26.
On November 26, King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency in Nepal and suspended civil liberties, including press freedom. On November 28, the Ministry of Information and Communication issued a list of proscribed topics for the media, among them any expression of support for the Maoists and news likely to “lower the morale and dignity” of the security forces.
Shrestha and Kafle argued that the article in question could not have violated the ministry’s decree because the story described the decline of the Maoists’ influence in urban areas and praised the efforts of the army and police. They were released after about an hour of questioning.