Security forces target journalists, impose blackout outside capital

New York, February 4, 2005—Security forces have arrested prominent social critic and columnist Khagendra Sangraula and are seeking to arrest Tara Nath Dahal, president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, who is currently in hiding.

The arrest came on the fourth day of the state of emergency called by King Gyanendra, who has also banned radio news broadcasts around the country and imposed a blackout on media outside the capital, Kathmandu.

“We are deeply concerned for the safety of journalists Khagendra Sangraula and Tara Nath Dahal, who have been targeted for their criticism of the government,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We are outraged at this unprecedented media blackout, which is leaving the citizens of Nepal, including journalists, extremely vulnerable to human rights abuses at the hands of the king’s army and Maoist rebels.”

On February 1, King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency after dissolving the government of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, saying that not enough progress had been made in holding elections and resolving the conflict with Maoist rebels, who have been trying since 1996 to overthrow the government.

Journalists targeted
Local sources have said that Khagendra Sangraula, a columnist for Kantipur daily who has criticized the monarchy in the past, is being held at the armed police headquarters at Halchowk, on the outskirts of Kathmandu.

At 7:30 this morning, plainclothes security forces went to the home of journalist Tara Nath Dahal to arrest him, according to information received by the International Federation of Journalists. Dahal was not at home, and security forces returned at 10 a.m. Dahal, who issued a statement this week condemning the king’s actions and loss of press freedom in Nepal, is in hiding.

A source in Nepal told CPJ that security forces are also seeking to arrest Sambhu Shrestha, editor of Dristi weekly.

State radio announced yesterday that all private radio broadcasts were to remain “purely entertainment,” according to The Associated Press.

With the blackout on media outside Kathmandu, several newspapers have stopped publishing, including Mechi Kali, Daily Lumbini, Jana Sangharsa and Naya Disha, according to CPJ sources.

The ongoing conflict between government forces and Maoist rebels has been most intense in the western, rural districts, where the media blackout is now complete. Army spokesman Dipak Kumar Gurung told Agence France-Presse that the information blackout had hurt Maoists’ ability to communicate.

But lack of information has also cut off all news from the nation’s villages and small cities. In Pokhara, where all media have been banned, soldiers fired on students holding a protest, a local journalist told The Associated Press on condition of anonymity.

Across the country, Internet and phone lines, including mobile phones and domestic landlines, remained down today.