CPJ condemns detention of prominent Nepalese editor

New York, March 7, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the detention today of prominent Nepalese journalist and political analyst Kanak Mani Dixit, editor and publisher of the Nepalese-language Himal Khabarpatrika magazine. Dixit, who has criticized the king’s February 1 takeover of the government, was taken into custody shortly after returning from India, where he delivered a talk on the political crisis in Nepal.

“The jailing of Kanak Dixit is another severe blow to the ideals of democracy and press freedom that once seemed so promising in Nepal,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Despite international censure of the king’s actions, journalists remain in jail and conditions for the press are dire. We call for the immediate release of Dixit and all other journalists in detention.”

Criticism of the king’s actions has been banned in Nepal, along with independent reporting on the ongoing Maoist conflict there. Dixit is among more than a dozen journalists who have been arrested since February 1. At least five remain in prison.

Plainclothes security personnel were waiting for Dixit when he returned to his home on Monday evening, Kunda Dixit, his brother and a well-known journalist himself, told CPJ. He was taken into custody and was being held at Jawalakhel police station. Police have not informed his family of the reasons for his detention or how long they intend to keep him in custody.

Kanak and Kunda Dixit run Himal, a publishing company that also publishes the English-language magazine Himal South Asian, which is on an unrelated hiatus. The editors support a constitutional monarchy and multi-party democracy in Nepal. Kanak Dixit is known internationally for his centrist stance on politics and his hatred of violence.

In an open letter posted online shortly after the February 1 takeover, Kanak Dixit called King Gyanendra’s move “drastic and ill-advised.” In a February 2 essay he contributed to the U.S.-based think tank Foreign Policy in Focus, Dixit warned that “King Gyanendra’s announcement of a takeover for ‘up to three years’ provides a long window in which Nepal’s highly successful experiment with democracy of the past dozen years may be eroded.”

In a recent trip to India, Dixit reiterated criticism he has voiced in recent articles written for Indian and other international media, according to his brother.

In e-mails to CPJ last week, Dixit described the efforts of Himal Khabarpatrika editors to publish critical commentary in the Kathmandu-based magazine. “We have achieved a half-way victory with the military censors,” he wrote. “We are able to say quite a lot ourselves, but … the government could come down with a heavy hand at any time.”

On March 3, security forces in the eastern district of Panchther arrested Labadev Dungana, executive editor of the Panchther Times and district correspondent for Rajdhani daily, according to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ). Officials accused Dungana, who is president of the Panchther district FNJ branch, of violating public security after he reported on student protests of the king’s proclamation.

In custody since February 22 are Arjun Prasad Shah, editor of Batabaran weekly, and Monohar Pokhrel, editor of Jana Aakrosh weekly. The two men are FNJ representatives in the southern district of Saptari. Security forces have been holding D.R. Panta, local correspondent of the Kantipur daily in the district of Dadeldhura, since February 15.