Under Chinese pressure, Nepal sanctions three journalists over Dalai Lama story

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on the Nepalese authorities to drop the retaliatory measures taken against three journalists with the state-owned national news agency Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS) for publishing a report about the Dalai Lama’s health. Chinese embassy pressure must be resisted, RSF said.

The three journalists, Mohani Risal, Somnath Lamichhane and Javan Bhandari, who work for the news agency’s English-language service, are under “investigation” in connection with the news item, the authorities confirmed on 14 May.

The three RSS journalists were questioned about the dispatch they translated and circulated reporting that the Tibetan spiritual leader had left the New Delhi hospital where he was being treated and had returned to Dharamshala, the city in northern India that is the Tibetan exile community’s capital.

The investigation was ordered by information and communication minister Gokul Baskota, who said: “Dissemination of this report by the state-run agency, particularly during the president’s state visit to China, is against Nepal’s commitment to One-China policy.”

“These RSS journalists just did their job by reporting information of public interest,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “It is not up to the Nepalese government to decide what can or cannot be published, and even less so to China’s representatives in Kathmandu. We demand an immediate end to this investigation and we condemn this unacceptable interference, which violates the independence of Nepal’s journalists.”

Speaking on condition of anonymity, an RSS journalist told the Kathmandu Post that a representative of the Chinese state news agency Xinhua visited the head of RSS, who then set up a committee to decide what action should be taken against the three journalists. The three journalists meanwhile insist that they circulated the report with the sole aim of informing, not with any political intent.

The new criminal code that Nepal adopted last year contains major threats to press freedom. At the same time, officials have been employing an “anti-media rhetoric” which has been widely reproduced in the government’s newspapers, radio stations and TV channels and which is also intimidating journalists.

Nepal is ranked 106th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.

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Updated on 23.08.2019