On the first anniversary of the seizure of absolute power by King Gyanendra (photo), the International Mission for Press Freedom and Free Expression in Nepal condemns an escalation in the crackdown on the independent press. Reporters Without Borders, which is a member of the mission, has registered 273 arrests of journalists, 147 physical attacks, and 569 cases of censorship in the past 12 months.
Statement by the 'International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Nepal' 31 January 2006 On the first anniversary of the king's seizure of power, international NGOs condemn a year of repression of Nepal's media We, the members of the "International Mission for Press Freedom and Free Expression in Nepal," condemn the persistent repression of the media and the increasing crackdown on freedom of expression since King Gyanendra seized absolute power on 1 February 2005. We hereby announce our collective intention for a follow-up mission to Nepal in March 2006. Nepal's journalists have been confronted with an autocratic regime for the past 365 days. During this period, the independent press has lost most of the legal and Constitutional protection it had acquired since 1990, more than a thousand journalists have lost their jobs and the government-induced economic pressure has increased on many media companies. The International Mission has registered at least 273 cases of arrests of journalists and 147 cases of physical attacks and threats towards the press from all parties involved in the conflict. In addition, there have been 569 cases of press censorship. Over the last few weeks, the Government has arrested more than 100 political leaders, civil society activists and journalists, imposed a curfew, restricted communications and placed a ban on demonstrations within Kathmandu. Media censorship has increased, including an embargo on Indian newspapers and TV channels. In addition to direct attacks on media personnel by the conflicting parties, the Government of Nepal has introduced a series of laws, ordinances and regulations since 1 February 2005 which have dramatically restricted freedom of expression and changed the regulatory environment for the print, broadcast and online media. The International Mission is particularly alarmed by recent reports of a draft Broadcasting Authority Ordinance which has not yet been made public by the Government. The creation of a regulatory authority is positive in principle, but we are concerned by the composition of this proposed body and certain aspects of this draft legislation (especially the excessive increase in the fee for a radio station licence, which would seriously hamper the electronic media, especially the independent and community radio stations). This Broadcasting Authority Ordinance, if enacted, is in violation of the Government's obligations under international laws as well as Nepal's own Constitution. The International Mission applauds the extraordinary mobilisation of the country's journalists and media community. It has enabled them on the streets and in the courts to win back some of the rights that were taken away by the Government. However, the mission's member organisations are also extremely concerned about the resumption of fighting in Nepal following the end of the cease-fire declared by the Maoist insurgents in 2005. We fear that media professionals will again come under attack from all sides of the conflict, especially at the district and rural levels. We stress that journalists are protected in wartime by the Geneva Conventions. The International Mission strongly urges the Government of Nepal to respect its national and international obligations to uphold freedom of expression and the rights of the media by lifting all repressive laws and ordinances. We ask for the immediate release of all journalists and human rights activists currently detained, and an end to the ban on demonstrations recently imposed. Due to the continuing deterioration in the press freedom and freedom of expression situation, the International Mission also wishes to announce its collective intention to return to Nepal in March 2006 to continue dialogue with the media community, freedom of expression advocates and the respective authorities. This statement is issued by the members of the "International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Nepal", including: ∑ ARTICLE 19 ∑ Committee to Protect Journalists ∑ FreeVoice ∑ International Federation of Journalists ∑ International Media Support ∑ International Press Institute ∑ Press Institute of India ∑ Reporters Without Borders ∑ South Asian Free Media Association ∑ United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization - UNESCO ∑ World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters - AMARC ∑ World Association of Newspapers ∑ World Press Freedom Committee