Journalists detained, harassed during demonstrations

New York, April 21, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about deteriorating press freedom conditions in Nepal. According to local and international press reports, security forces have harassed, physically attacked, and briefly detained hundreds of journalists since authorities banned protests in the capital, Kathmandu, and neighboring towns earlier this month.

According to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), Nepal’s largest journalists’ union, at least one journalist was held for several days following his arrest by security forces. Sukadeb Dahal, a reporter for the private, Kathmandu-based Commander Evening Daily, was arrested on Thursday, April 15, in the town of Bhaktapur, about 8 miles (12 kilometers) east of Kathmandu.

Dahal was covering a rally organized by opposition political parties to protest King Gyanendra’s assumption of executive powers. The king dismissed an elected government in October 2002 and appointed a government loyal to him. He has been locked in a constitutional stalemate with Parliament ever since. Dozens of similar protests have been held in recent weeks throughout the country, with students and members of opposition parties calling for political reform.

Dahal was released yesterday after being detained in police barracks, according to FNJ Secretary-General Tara Nath Dahal, who is not related to the journalist.

On Friday, April 16, up to 75 journalists were detained while covering a demonstration in Kathmandu, according to local news reports, and several were beaten by security forces. The journalists were later released. On April 17, Minister of Home, Communications, and Information Kamal Thapa promised to investigate the attacks, and on April 19, Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa said he regretted the use of force against journalists during protests, according to press reports. Local journalists organized their own protest on April 17, during which as many as 200 journalists were briefly detained, and have called for Kamal Thapa’s resignation.

“We are alarmed at reports of attacks on our colleagues,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on Nepalese authorities to ensure that journalists can conduct their work freely and safely. We also call on Home Minister Thapa to uphold his promise to investigate the use of violent force against journalists attempting to report the news.”