A Nepalese police officer maintains distance as he detains a man defying the lockdown imposed by the government amid concerns about the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kathmandu on March 29, 2020. Several journalists have been detained or obstructed while reporting since the lockdown was imposed. (Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar)

Nepali reporters detained, threatened while reporting on COVID-19 pandemic

May 21, 2020 5:36 PM ET

Police in districts around Nepal briefly detained at least four journalists in relation to coverage of the coronavirus pandemic since the government introduced containment measures on March 23, 2020, while at least six others reported being threatened or attacked by a range of actors seeking to suppress allegations of wrongdoing over the same period, according to CPJ reporting and news reports.

On April 30, Lok Karki, a reporter for Radio Dhangadhi, was detained for six days in Doti district in the far western region of Nepal while filming a disagreement over distribution of food and other relief amid the pandemic, according to news reports and Hari Joshi, editor of the local station, who spoke to CPJ via phone.

Joshi and the news reports alleged that Jaya Bahadur Dhami, chair of an electoral division of the district, hit Karki while the journalist was filming the disagreement. Joshi said Dhami forced Karki to delete photos and videos. When CPJ reached him by telephone in May, Dhami denied attacking Karki and said that Karki had attacked him while he was distributing rice.

On April 28, the All Nepal National Health Professionals’ Association issued a public statement threatening that journalists in Chitwan city, Bagmati province, who reported on the alleged theft of medical supplies from a COVID-19 field hospital would be subject to physical attack, according to Freedom Forum, a local human rights organization. The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), a local press freedom advocacy group, said the statement was targeted at Subash Pandit, a correspondent for the news website Online Khawar, who had reported on irregularities involving hospital supplies. Mira Adhikari, a member of the association, denied threatening Pandit to CPJ and said that the statement was intended to highlight that an online video purporting to show hospital staff removing the supplies had been manipulated.

On April 27, reporters Binod Babu Rijal, editor of the Kayakaran Daily, and Arjun Adhikari, a reporter for Radio Triveni, were detained for one hour in Chitwan for reporting during lockdown measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, according to Freedom Forum and FNJ. Police seized their cellphones, although they identified themselves as journalists, according to FNJ. Police in Chitwan separately detained Kantipur Daily reporter Pramita Dhakal for two hours the same day while she was photographing vehicles seized by police during the lockdown, according to Freedom Forum. Nanti Raj Gurung, chief of Chitwan district police, told CPJ that police had detained people who were violating restrictions on movement, but released the journalists immediately on finding out their profession.

On April 19, reporter Rajkaran Mahato and cameraman Bibek Mahato with the Annapurna Post newspaper were reporting on illegal mining in the Mahottari district bordering India, Rajkaran Mahato told CPJ and the Kathmandu Post. He told CPJ that four people with their faces covered arrived on bikes and threatened him and his colleague as they were documenting the ongoing extraction of resources from a local riverbed, in defiance of a recent ban. He told CPJ filed a police complaint.

On April 18, Manoj Mourbait, a reporter with the newspaper Janakpur Today, and Sibendra Rohita, a reporter with news website Khoj Kendra, were attacked by five assailants in the district of Dhanusha, according to Freedom Forum. Both were injured, and Rohita received a deep cut in his head, the report said. The journalists had been reporting on conditions in a COVID-19 quarantine facility in the municipality of Sahid Nagar—where Mourbait has previously reported on allegations of mismanagement of city funds—and were attacked soon after seeking comment from officials, Mourbait told Freedom Forum. Udaya Barbariya, the local mayor, denied involvement and told CPJ by phone that police are investigating the attack, which he said could be gang violence.

On April 12, Santosh Mudbhari, chair of an administrative division of the city of Dhangadi in western Kailali district, brought six supporters to the local Radio Dhangadhi office and attempted to attack reporter Nabaraj Dhabuk, according to station editor Hari Joshi and reports by Freedom Forum and FNJ. The attempt was deterred by local residents, according to Freedom Forum. Joshi told CPJ that Dhabuk had recently interviewed Mudbhari on alleged discrepancies in the distribution of supplies related to pandemic relief.

CPJ called Mudbhari repeatedly to request comment but his phone was switched off. In a statement reported by Freedom Forum, he said he “did not intend to picket” the radio station.