March 8, 2002
Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba
Prime Minister’s Office
Via facsimile: +997 1 227286
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about your government’s ongoing efforts to stifle the Nepalese press by using emergency regulations that give authorities broad power to arrest anyone suspected of supporting the rebel Maoist movement.
Since the declaration of the state of emergency in November 2001, dozens of journalists have been detained and interrogated. At least 17 journalists were in prison as of December 31, 2001, according to CPJ research.
In most recent cases, local journalists and human rights groups have not been able to determine if imprisoned journalists have been officially charged or where they are being held. CPJ wishes to draw your attention to several cases in which the evidence suggests that the journalists were detained for their professional work.
On March 3, Gopal Budhathoki, editor of the newspaper Sanghu Weekly, went missing while riding his motorcycle home from work. Budhathoki has frequently covered alleged abuses of power by the Nepalese army, including financial irregularities in the purchase of military helicopters, according to local sources.
On March 6, Your Excellency announced that the army had detained Budhathoki for publishing reports that “encouraged and raised morale of the Maoists,” according to local press accounts.
The announcement came only after a flurry of inquiries from legislators and media organizations.
Under the emergency regulations, anyone accused of supporting or aiding the outlawed Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) can be charged with terrorism, a crime punishable by life imprisonment.
On January 19, police detained Bijay Raj Acharya, whose Srijanashil Prakashan publishing house publishes leftist literature as well as children’s books. Soon after his detention, Acharya was brought to a military camp where his hands and feet were tied and he was repeatedly tortured with electric shocks during a two-day interrogation, according to CPJ sources in Nepal.
Acharya is currently being held at the Hanumandhoka police detention center in Kathmandu, but no formal charges have been brought against him, according to the Kathmandu-based Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES).
At least seven Nepalese journalists have been in jail for their work since November 26, 2001, when King Gyanendra declared the state of emergency. Hours before the emergency declaration, police raided the offices of three publications considered supportive of the Maoist movement.
The police arrested journalists Om Sharma, editor of the daily newspaper Janadisha; Dipendra Rokaya, of Janadisha; Govinda Acharya, editor of the weekly Janadesh; Khil Bahadur Bhandari, executive editor of Janadesh; Deepak Sapkota, reporter for Janadesh; Manarishi Dhital, reporter for the monthly Dishabodh; and Ishwarchandra Gyawali, executive editor of Dishabodh.
In early January, the government responded to a “show cause” notice issued by the Supreme Court by declaring that six of the seven journalists would be charged for engaging in activities supporting the Maoist movement, according to a lawyer for the journalists. All seven are currently in prison in Kathmandu.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ believes that the nonviolent expression of political views should never be considered a crime. While we understand the government’s security concerns in the current conflict, emergency regulations must not be used as a pretext to erode press freedom.
CPJ calls for the immediate release of all journalists who have been jailed for exercising their right to free expression. We also respectfully ask your administration to provide detailed information about the circumstances under which journalists have been arrested since the declaration of the state of emergency.
Thank you for your attention to these urgent matters. We await your response.