Reporter arrested, 15 others flee

New York, September 19, 2005— The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the arrest today of a reporter with Kantipur publications in the mid-western district of Dailekh from which 15 independent journalists fled after being harassed by the military for their reporting of Nepal’s civil war. Authorities detained Harihar Singh Rathour, correspondent for the Kathmandu Post and Kantipur, without charge, media sources told CPJ. He has not been allowed visits.

Authorities threatened to hold him under the Terrorist and Destructive Activities (Control and Punishment) Ordinance for allegedly collaborating with Maoist rebels. The ordinance allows for detention without trial for renewable periods of up to 90 days. The Kathmandu Post quoted local battalion commander Col. Nainaraj Dahal as saying, “We will initiate action against Rathour.”

Rathour told the Associated Press on Sunday that a group of 15 local journalists planned to leave the region because of harassment in retaliation for their reporting. “Because we refused to censor news about the army’s activities, we were being harassed and even threatened. So all of us decided to flee to safe areas,” he said. Police detained Rathour and the others briefly on Sunday but most were able to leave the area later. Rathour was re-arrested on Monday.

“We call for the immediate and unconditional release of Harihar Singh Rathour,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “This seems to be part of a systematic campaign by the military to suppress critical reporting on their activities.”

On September 16, army spokesman Brig. Gen. Deepak Gurung, accused Rathour of receiving payment from the Maoists. Rathour denied the allegation and said that he was targeted because of his reporting on the army, the Web site Nepalnews reported.

Rathour and the others have been under pressure from officials since July when they reported that the army had recruited children as informants. Rathour’s report in the Kathmandu Post prompted angry denials from army officials.

Journalists in rural areas often face threats from both sides of the conflict. Last year Maoists threatened Rathour in retaliation for his reporting. After Dekendra Raj Thapa, a reporter with state-run Radio Nepal, was murdered by the Maoists last August, Rathour’s name appeared on a hit list of 10 journalists who were to be “eliminated.”