Police beat journalists

New York, May 11, 2004—Police officers beat and detained journalists who were covering a student-organized mock political referendum on May 7 in Butwal, a town about 174 miles (280 kilometers) southwest of the capital, Kathmandu.

The demonstration was held as part of ongoing protests against King Gyanendra’s assumption of executive powers, which occurred after the king dismissed an elected government in October 2002.

At 9:30 a.m., police broke up a large crowd of participants in the mock referendum, which asked respondents whether they favor absolute monarchy, constitutional monarchy, or a republican democracy. According to CPJ sources, police officers targeted and arrested a group of about 15 local journalists who were covering the event. Dozens of students were also arrested, according to news reports.

Later, police assaulted several journalists who had been present at the protest at a nearby restaurant, sources said. The journalists were dragged from the restaurant and beaten with batons and rifle butts, then arrested.

According to local sources, the journalists injured in the attacks included Jitendra Gurti Chhetri, a stringer for the India-based satellite television channel Nepal 1; Dipendra Baduwal, of the Kathmandu-based daily Kantipur; Dipak Gnyawali, of the Butwal-based daily Bhabana; Sher Bahadur Khatri Chhetri, editor of the Butwal-based daily Jana Sangharsa; Bishnu Ghimire, of the Butwal-based daily Lumbini; Dipendra Kunwar; Yuvaraj Pandey; and Ram Prasad Acharya.

All of the arrested journalists were released after several hours in police detention.

On May 8, after the Federation of Nepalese Journalists condemned the Butwal assaults on journalists, two police officers were arrested pending an investigation into their alleged involvement, and a third officer is also being investigated, according to the news Web site Kantipur Online (http://www.kantipuronline.com/).

After a ban on public assemblies was announced in early April, hundreds of Nepalese journalists were harassed and detained while covering political demonstrations. The ban was lifted last week, but opposition parties have vowed to continue their campaign of protests against the king’s hand-picked administration, and security forces continue to break up demonstrations. On May 7, Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa resigned in an apparent attempt to defuse the country’s mounting political crisis.

“We are concerned about these attacks on our colleagues in Nepal, and about the overall deterioration of press freedom conditions there,” said CPJ Deputy Director Joel Simon. “We call on Nepalese authorities to protect journalists’ right to safely and freely cover these important events.”