Nepal: Security forces target journalists covering crackdown

New York, April 10, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores the use of force against journalists covering pro-democracy demonstrations across Nepal in which at least three people have died. Police in Kathmandu today beat four journalists affiliated with the independent news group Kantipur in what news editor Guna Raj Luitel said was retribution for critical reporting on the police.

“As the death toll in these protests rises, the presence of journalists is a crucial safeguard of accountability,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We deplore the use of force against the media, and call on Nepal’s government to ensure that security forces act with restraint.”

Police have beaten and arrested scores of journalists since the protests organized by an alliance of banned political parties began on Thursday, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists said. Twenty journalists are still in detention, the FNJ said today.

Luitel told CPJ that police used batons to attack Kantipur online editor Akhilesh Tripathi, and Kantipur daily journalists Balram Baniya, Gopal Khanal and Ekindra Kunwar while they were on their way to cover a protest. The journalists were treated for injuries to their backs and legs at a hospital. They told colleagues that the officers had taken their identity cards and accused them of writing critically about the police.

Police have fired live ammunition guns and used tear gas and batons against people defying a curfew. A shoot-to-kill order against curfew violators is in effect, according to The New York Times. Independent media outlets have been denied curfew passes and cellular phone service has been cut off making reporting the unrest extremely difficult, journalists say.

On Sunday, security forces threatened human rights workers Shobhakar Budhathoki and Karon Cochran-Budhathoki who confronted them at a demonstration. The rights workers believed that the presence of Kantipur Television on the scene prevented security forces from physically attacking them.