Nearly 100 days after Your Majesty dismissed the government and curtailed civil liberties, press freedom has not been restored. Your Majesty has not lifted a ban on reporting that goes “against the letter and spirit” of your February 1 proclamation. A ban on FM radio news broadcasting remains in place, depriving rural citizens of their only source of independent news. And your government continues to harass and intimidate journalists.
Shortly after declaring a state of emergency on February 1, you assured foreign diplomats that you would begin implementing a return to democracy within 100 days. On April 29, you lifted the state of emergency, raising hopes that constitutional freedoms would be restored. But journalists in Nepal tell CPJ that curbs on the press remain in place, and they have even reported new cases of harassment.
Millions of dollars in foreign aid are at risk as the 100-day deadline approaches on May 11; the world’s financial and military support are tied to the restoration of civil liberties. We call on Your Majesty to lift all restrictions on the press immediately, and to stop harassing and intimidating journalists.
We have grave concern about the following situations:
- An estimated 1,200 radio journalists remain out of work after your government shut down news reporting on FM radio. Quoting Minister of Education and Sports Radha Krishna Mainali on May 7, local media reported that the government is drafting regulations that would ban FM stations from broadcasting news related to politics. Such a regulation would ensure the demise of FM radio as a thriving, independent source of news and information. It would mean that only state-run stations and Maoist rebels with access to clandestine radio transmitters would provide information in the areas hardest hit by the conflict between the government and the rebels.
- The government’s decision to stop publishing ads in private media has not been repealed. Advertising from government agencies accounts for 25 percent of the media’s revenues nationwide, according to a report on the Nepal News Web site. Local journalists told CPJ that the ad suspension will cause greater hardship for the Nepalese press, already under extreme economic pressure since February 1.
- A ban on reporting that goes “against the spirit and letter” of the February 1 proclamation, or that “directly or indirectly supports destruction and terrorism” remains in place. The vague wording of this ban means that editors and reporters, particularly those outside the capital, remain at the mercy of local administrators’ interpretations. Cases of harassment have been reported since the lifting of the state of emergency on April 29. They include:
- On May 6, weekly Himal Khabarpatrika publisher and well-known journalist Kanak Mani Dixit was prevented from boarding a flight to Delhi en route to Colombo, Sri Lanka, to attend a conference. Dixit told CPJ that his name was on a list of activists, politicians, and journalists who are barred from boarding flights at Tribhuvan International Airport. Authorities did not explain the reasons for the restriction, but Dixit has been publicly critical of Your Majesty’s February 1 proclamation and was detained briefly in March.
- Also on May 6, the Royal Nepal Army publicly condemned the reporting of journalist Phanindra Silwal, saying that he collaborated with Maoists through his coverage of the rebels’ abduction and killing of three soldiers in November 2004. Silwal, who reported for Nepal 1 TV channel before it was banned along with other Indian channels on February 1, has gone into hiding, according to CPJ sources.
Your government has used its campaign against Maoist rebels as a pretext for shutting down independent journalism, but restrictions and attacks on the press during the past 100 days have done nothing to stem the violent conflict. Maoists continue to control the flow of information in many rural areas, and journalists remain at risk from both security forces and rebels. We urge you to roll back the blanket restrictions on FM radio news reporting, repeal the bans on other reporting, and allow the revival of Nepal’s independent press.
As an independent organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ condemns the systematic intimidation and harassment of journalists. Promises to reinstate democracy are meaningless without the restoration of constitutionally protected liberties. If Your Majesty is sincere in pledging to normalize the political situation, the immediate restoration of an independent press is essential.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.