CPJ welcomes release of five journalists

New York, November 5, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) welcomes today’s release of five journalists, four of whom have been imprisoned for nearly a year on suspicion of supporting Maoist rebels in Nepal.

The journalists released today are Ishwarchandra Gyawali, executive editor of the monthly magazine Dishabodh; Manarishi Dhital, a reporter for Dishabodh; Deepak Sapkota, a reporter for the weekly Janadesh; Dipendra Rokaya, of the daily Janadisha; and Mina Tiwari Sharma, publisher and editor of the monthly magazine Eikyavaddatha.

Authorities also freed Dhan Bahadur Magar, an officer manager for Janadesh, today, and Ram Bhakta Maharjan, a computer operator for Janadesh, on November 4.

Journalists consider Dishabodh, Janadesh, and Janadisha to be pro-Maoist publications. Eikyavaddatha is a little-known magazine that has only published one issue, but a relative of Sharma’s told CPJ that the publication is intended to promote “solidarity between Nepalese people living in different countries of the world.”

Gyawali, Dhital, Sapkota, and Rokaya were arrested on November 26, 2001, the day the government declared a state of emergency and introduced an anti-terrorism ordinance designed to quash the Maoist insurgency. Under the state of emergency, which was in effect until late August, press freedom and other civil liberties were suspended. The anti-terrorism ordinance, which is still in effect, allows for the arrest of anyone “in contact with” or “supportive of” the Maoist rebels. More than 100 journalists have been detained under these broad provisions, according to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ).

Sharma was arrested in May 2002, according to the FNJ.

Police officer Kedar Mansingh Bhandari told The Associated Press that the charges against the journalists had been dropped.

“While we welcome the release of these journalists,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper, “it is outrageous that journalists can be held for months in Nepal without evidence that they are guilty of any crime.”

In June, CPJ conducted a mission to Nepal to meet with local journalists and government officials about the press freedom emergency in Nepal. Because most detained journalists have not been tried, it is difficult to determine whether they were arrested for their professional work or for direct involvement in rebel activities. However, the FNJ, the country’s largest journalists’ union, says at least 20 journalists remain in state custody.