King and army shut down independent press

New York, February 3, 2005—Two days after Nepal’s king declared a state of emergency, the independent press has been effectively shut down with blanket news bans introduced, military patrols placed at media outlets, and reprisals threatened against journalists.

King Gyanendra has imposed a six-month ban on what state radio described as critical reporting on government activities, according to international news reports. Soldiers are posted at Nepal’s major print and broadcast outlets, are controlling television broadcasts, and are vetting news articles, according to CPJ sources and international news reports.

Internet and telephone communication, including domestic land lines and mobile phones, remained cut off today. Local reporters who have smuggled information from the country through satellite communications have asked not to be identified for fear of punishment by authorities.

Editors at the major dailies Kathmandu Post and Kantipur have been summoned by the principal press secretary of the king and warned that they may face military punishment, according to sources inside the country. Soldiers have surrounded the offices of The Kathmandu Post and officers are scanning all content before it goes to print, according to a local source.

Jana Aastha weekly, which has been critical of the monarch in the past, has been placed under special army surveillance, local sources said. Eighteen soldiers led by a colonel entered the weekly’s offices at 6 p.m. on Tuesday and detained journalists there until 11 a.m. the following day, a source told CPJ. The officer censored all contents and warned reporters to avoid criticizing the king or the army.

“There can be no conceivable reason for this very alarming ban on news reporting, which makes Nepal less secure by cutting off information when it is most needed,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “The ban raises grave international concerns that, at this moment of great crisis, the world is prevented from knowing what is happening in Nepal.”

Hundreds of people have already been arrested since the king’s declaration, according to local sources. The Nepalese-language Rajdhani daily has risked punishment to publish the names of those arrested this week.

Fearing punishment, hotels refused to allow foreign news crews to set up satellite dishes on their roofs, according to Reuters.

Despite the great risk, Tara Nath Dahal, a prominent journalist and president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, issued a statement condemning Tuesday’s royal announcement.

“This has undoubtedly destroyed the fabric of democracy and has also confirmed that the lives of ordinary civilians as well as national values are in grave danger,” he wrote. He called the action an “enormous mistake” which has ended Nepalese citizens’ hard-won freedom of expression and press freedom.