Archive ref no: NCA-20198
Nepal - Annual report 2006
Published on 3 May 2006
With his coup on 1st February 2005, King Gyanendra tried to forcibly erase 15 years of press freedom. But the independent media, although severely censored and harassed, put up a resistance. For their part, the Maoists continued their policy of intimidating journalists who condemn their abuses.
On 1st February 2005, the king, tempted by a return to absolute monarchy, declared total war against the press. The army invaded newspaper offices to impose censorship and FM radios were banned from putting out any news. The government also cut all communications. The lifting of the state of emergency at the end of April did not really improve the situation. In 2005, Nepal was alone responsible for more than half of all cases of censorship worldwide. Reporters Without Borders counted 567 instances, while 145 journalists were physically attacked or harassed.
Faced with censorship and mass sackings, the media community showed great courage, demonstrating almost every day, despite a crackdown by the security forces. On 16 September alone, 87 journalists were arrested, around a score of whom were clubbed by police. A general strike was called at the end of October after police raided the offices of independent radio Kantipur FM.
The government used every possible means to try to bring the privately-owned press to its knees, including interfering with editorial independence (Some 15 journalists were sacked under pressure), unfair allocation of public advertising, increases in franking costs for newspapers, disruption of distribution, threats of non-renewal of TV and radio licences and so on.
The media defended their rights before the courts. The Supreme Court found in favour of press freedom, demanding the release of journalists and defending the right of radio stations to put out the news. On the other hand, the same court approved a new media law, promulgated in October that set up tight controls on journalistic work and media ownership. Fines for defamation were multiplied by ten.
Journalists were particularly exposed in zones held by Maoists, making up almost half the country. The rebels continued to destroy media infrastructure such as public television offices near Nepalgunj, in the south. Under threat of reprisals by Maoists or the security forces, more than a dozen journalists took refuge in the cities.