Kathmandu, June 6, 2002—In a press conference today, a delegation from the Committee to Protect Journalists announced that it had met with Nepalese prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and Information Minister Jaya Prakash Gupta to raise concerns about press freedom abuses that have occurred since the government declared a state of emergency in November 2001. The CPJ team specifically brought up the illegal detention of journalists and the alleged torture by authorities.
Deuba told the CPJ delegation that, “We have instructed the army and the police not to violate human rights,” and added, “democracy can only be saved in a democratic way.” He pledged to look into cases where abuses have occurred.
CPJ also urged the government, which has been fighting Maoist rebels in a brutal civil war since 1996, to facilitate media access to conflict areas and to schedule weekly military briefings to keep journalists better informed about the fighting. Deuba and Gupta both agreed that it was important to improve the flow of communication between the security forces and the media.
At a crossroads
“Nepal is at a crossroads,” said Pulitzer Prizewinning reporter Josh Friedman, a member of CPJ’s executive committee. “The press here has made great strides in just 12 years of freedom but remains extremely vulnerable to pressure from the state.”
Friedman was accompanied by Kavita Menon, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. Together, the CPJ team has spent two weeks in Nepal, interviewing dozens of journalists, human rights activists, and government officials to identify the challenges facing the Nepalese press.
During the last six months, local human rights and press freedom groups have reported the arrests of more than 100 journalists. CPJ representatives met with many of the journalists who had been detained and discovered that the majority of arrests were carried out illegally, and that there appeared to be a pattern of abuse.
The journalists’ arrests have created a climate of fear, and self-censorship is widespread. Journalists described being literally abducted by security forces and held incommunicado, without charge.
In numerous interviews, journalists also told CPJ that the army’s lack of transparency has made it virtually impossible to get accurate information about the military offensive and complained that casualty figures provided by the Defense Ministry were often unreliable.
After Maoist rebels stepped up violent attacks last fall, the Nepalese government declared a state of emergency on November 26, 2001. Many civil liberties, including press freedom, were suspended. Under the emergency regulations, anyone suspected of supporting the Maoist rebels can be charged as a terrorist.
On May 22, 2002, King Gyanendra dissolved Parliament on the recommendation of the prime minister, who faced a possible losing vote on his bid for a six-month extension of the state of emergency. Fresh parliamentary elections are scheduled for mid-November. The emergency was reimposed days later, on May 27, when the king approved the prime minister’s request for three more months of emergency rule.
CPJ will release a full report on press conditions in Nepal at a later date.