IN NEPAL, JOURNALISTS LIVE UNDER CONSTANT THREAT
by Chiranjibi Paudyal
American Reporter Correspondent
LONDON, Oct. 30, 2005 -- Nepalese journalists have been living under heavy censorship, subject to mass arrests, threats and intimidation since the coup of King Gyanendra on Feb. 1 of this year.
More than 550 journalists have been arrested so far, placing Nepal on top of the media predator countries in the world since the coup, said Bishnu Nishthuri, President of the Federation of Nepalese Journalist (FNJ), an umbrella organisation of the Nepalese journalists.
FNJ President Nishthuri was in London last week in connection with his campaign to garner support from the international community for freedom of the press in Nepal.
Nishthuri described the pitiable situation of the media in Nepal. Security of journalists is our concern, he said. "We can be killed at any time. Any journalist who opposes the king's actions and Maoists' violence is not safe," he said.
Describing his detention after the coup on February 1, he said: "I was detained by security forces. I was blindfolded and taken to an unknown destination.
"They could kill me if there was no international intervention," he said with tears in his eyes.
The Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) President Christopher Warren immediately issued a statement seeking my release, he said. "That saved my life."
His whereabouts were not known for some days. "I was handed over to police after the international intervention," he said. "Otherwise, my fate would not be known to many journalists."
"After the handover to police, army generals came to lure me. I was told to support to the king's coup. How I could support the coup going against the values and norms of media," he asked.
"I could get money and anything i wanted, but I am committed to the profession and that does notinfluence me," he said.
What was the crime of this leader of the media? Why was he blindfolded, kept in an unknown location for some days? Because he opposed the coup. Do such incidents happen in repressive regimes in Cuba or North Korea?
Journalists have been detained for writing in favor of freedom, interrogated for presenting the facts to the people and threatened to support the coup since the king's takeover.
The journalists' leader met journalists working in various media in London, and also representatives of human rights organisations for the support of freedom of press and democracy in Nepal.
"UK journalists have expressed their solidarity with our movement for free press and democracy," Nishthuri told The American Reporter.
"I have requested that they send a high-level mission to Nepal to investigate the difficulties of Nepalese journalists," he said. "They are very positive about our request," he said. "Even sending a delegation can save our lives."
"We have been the target of the autocratic regime, as the repression cannot be continued without suppressing freedom of the press," he said.
The King's government promulgated a new ordinance three weeks ago through which it could completely control the media and impose heavy censorship. Political parties, national and international organizations have condemned the ordinance, saying "it is against the spirit of the constitution and freedom of the press."
Despite worldwide condemnation, the government has banned the broadcast of news from FM radio stations, which are very popular media outlets in the Himalayan kingdom.
The government seized radio hook-ups linking equipment from Kantipur FM, the popular media house, stopping the FM broadcast of news in eastern regions of the country. The midnight raid by the security forces was also condemned worldwide.
"We strongly condemned the government's sanction," said a statement by the seven major political parties of the kingdom, who are struggling to establish "full-fledged democracy."
The international community, media organizations around the world, ambassadors, political parties, human rights organizations and civil society have strongly condemned the government for imposing censorshipof themedia. However, the government does not listen and imposes restrictions one after another.
In the World Press Freedom Report for 2005 published this month by Paris-based Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF)., Nepal placed 160th.
Only the most repressive regimes, like Cuba, North Korea, Myanmar, Iran, Turkmenistan and Libya placed behind Nepal. Even China is ahead of Nepal - in 159th position.
The RSF says in the report: "King Gyanendra of Nepal is trying to wipe out 15 years of democratic achievement by the independent press with censorship and arrests, and his government has sent soldiers to newspaper offices.
"About 150 journalists were arrested by the authorities in the first 10 days of September. The Maoist rebels killed, kidnapped and threatened journalists, especially pro-government ones, who criticized them."
The soldiers were sent to all the media houses after the coup. Soldiers with pointed guns dictated to journalists, forcing them not to write anything against the coup, the king and his family, government and the army.
"We were told not to write anything against the coup and in favor of democracy and freedom of the press," said an editor of the government-run media. "There is threat, there is danger of life and we are living under stress," he told the American Reporter on condition of anonymity.
"Forget about the free press. Our concern is life, how to be safe; anything can happen anytime," said another journalist, who was detained and questioned by army for writing about the killing of an innocent girl by the army.
Media houses opposing the dictatorial rule have been the target of the government. The government said the restrictions were designed was to control Maoists, who are struggling to establish a Maoist republic in the HimalayankKingdom. However, the government is targeting the media, which opposes the violence and terror of Maoists.
"What is the motive of the king?" a senior journalist asked rhetorically. "The king is trying to rule the country, becoming a dictator in the name of crushing the Maoist insurgency,. In fact, he is crushing democratic institutions."
The international community, especially the Western countries, should understand his anti-democratic motive, he said.
The Maoists have been broadcasting the news through FM radio from an unknown location, and also disseminating their message through the Internet, but the government has not been able to control themand is instead targeting the media that opposes the King's autocratic rule.
Both landline and mobile lines were cut off for several days after the coup. Civil liberties are banned and complete censorship is imposed on media.
Nepali journalists have been living under constant threat and intimidation in the 21st Century, at a time when media around the world have made remarkable strides in freedom of the press.
Nepali media have lost the most basic of the basic rights: freedom and democracy.
"Whatever the dictatorial regime does, we will defy and fight for freedom of the press," said a confident Nishthuri after meeting journalists in London. "Now, I realise, we have support from all sides," he said.
The journalists' umbrella organization has called for defiance of the ordinance and censorship imposed on media.
"This is the age of democracy and free media. There will be full-fledged democracy without the king," said veteran human rights defender Krishna Pahadi, who is also visiting Britain, the United States and other countries to advocate for the abolition of monarchy in Nepal.
The king has shortened the future of monarchy in Nepal and his deeds will end monarchy, he warned.
However, the journalists of Nepal fear for their safety. "We fear for our lives. Anything can happen anytime," said a journalist who regularly contributes tp national and international media.
"We request the the international community plead for the safety of journalists in Nepal," he said with fear and terror in his eyes.
American Reporter Correspondent Chiran Paudyal heads the Nepalese News Service in Katmandu. He has been forced to flee to London in fear for his life.