New York, November 29, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed an interim ruling by Nepal’s Supreme Court today preventing the government from suspending Radio Sagarmatha. Police raided the independent Kathmandu-based station on Sunday to stop it from broadcasting a BBC interview with Maoist rebel leader Prachanda.
The Court summoned government officials to a hearing on December 7. Radio Sagarmatha (Mount Everest Radio), resumed broadcasting immediately after the interim order. The raid on the station is part of an ongoing crackdown on the media by the government of King Gyanendra who seized absolute power in February.
“While we welcome today’s ruling we are outraged at the government’s attempts to silence local and foreign news reports,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Until the King repeals his repressive media ordinance, radio journalists in particular will continue to work under the constant threat of government reprisal.”
The Supreme Court has played a key role in legal battles over a ban on FM news broadcasts instituted in an October ordinance. Earlier this month, the court refused to stay the government closure of Kantipur FM on October 21. Kantipur was the first target of the new media law.
During the raid on Sunday, police accused Radio Sagarmatha of “helping terrorists and terrorism.” They confiscated equipment used to relay BBC broadcasts and arrested five staff members who were released on Monday. After today’s ruling, the Minister of Information and Communications ordered the radio station to refrain from broadcasting BBC Nepali programs and others “banned by the law,” according to Nepalnews.com. It was unclear whether the government had returned the equipment that police confiscated.
State-owned Radio Nepal, which rebroadcasts the BBC English-language World Service on FM 103 in Kathmandu, also halted BBC transmissions on Sunday. Radio Nepal officials called the disruption a result of “technical problems” and broadcasts resumed on Monday, according to news reports. Access to the BBC News Web site was temporarily blocked, and the BBC Nepali service Web site was still blocked today, the BBC said.
The interview with Prachanda was his first since the Maoists began their fight to overthrow the monarchy in 1996. In the interview, the rebel leader confirmed that Maoists were willing to consider a softened stance toward the monarchy provided that elections for a constituent assembly were held.
Several local radio stations have been permitted to carry BBC Nepali service reports despite a government ban on FM radio stations from broadcasting news.