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Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Nepal

Publisher Committee to Protect Journalists
Publication Date February 2004
Cite as Committee to Protect Journalists, Attacks on the Press in 2003 - Nepal, February 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/47c566b025.html [accessed 19 April 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

There was hope for a peaceful resolution toe the political violence in Nepal on January 29, 2003, when the government and Maoist rebels signed a cease-fire agreement to halt their seven-year civil conflict. However, the deepening political crisis within the country's constitutional monarchy and the eventual collapse of the cease-fire in August sparked a sharp increase in violence, with grave consequences for the press.

Nepal's King Gyanendra initiated the cease-fire with Maoist rebel forces through back channels, according to international news reports, and both sides of the conflict partici-pated in three rounds of peace talks before the rebels declared an end to the cease-fire on August 27. The government refused to accept the Maoists' main demand: the formation of an assembly to draft a new constitution that could redefine or even abolish the king's role.

King Gyanendra, who took the throne in 2001 after his brother and eight other members of the royal family were gunned down by the crown prince in a palace massacre, is reportedly unsupportive of a reduction in the monarchy's power. After mass protests in 1990, a new constitution was written that ended absolute monarchy in Nepal and created a multiparty democracy. Twelve governments have been formed in 13 years.

The king dismissed the government in October 2002 because of "incompetence," which led to a standoff with Nepal's five political parties, and he appointed as prime minister Lokendra Bahadar Chand, a member of the conservative, royalist Rastriya Prajatantra Party (RPP). Amid protests by opposition parties and charges that the king was acting unconstitutionally, Chand resigned in May and another RPP member, Surya Bahadur Thapa, was appointed prime minister. The ensuing stalemate between the king and the political parties hampered peace efforts in 2003.

While the cease-fire lasted, it brought a degree of stability for the press in Nepal for the first time since November 2001, when the previous cease-fire was broken and attacks against journalists escalated. At that time, King Gyanendra declared a state of emergency, mobilizing the Royal Nepal Army to fight with the police under a unified command against the Maoists. Previously, only the police had been engaged in the conflict. As a result, the fighting intensified. Of the estimated 8,000 people killed during Nepal's civil conflict, half of them have died since the army joined the fighting in 2001.

The king also suspended all civil liberties, including press freedom, through August 2002. During that time, the government detained more than 100 journalists, and Maoist rebels were responsible for kidnapping and torturing one journalist and murdering at least one other.

After the cease-fire was declared, reports of harassment of journalists decreased, even as skirmishes between security forces and the Maoists continued. However, rebel forces continued to threaten journalists whose reporting criticized the "people's war," particularly in rural districts. In February, CPJ documented two such cases. Local Maoist leaders confined Deepak Bahadur Thapa, a reporter for the national newspaper Nepal Samacharpatra, to his village in the western district of Accham. Thapa's editor, Kapil Kafle, said the rebels had accused Thapa of reporting against them. On February 24, Rabin Prasad Thapalia, a journalist who contributed to the weekly newspaper Ruprekha, reported receiving death threats from the Maoists after he wrote an article profiling government security officers' widows.

Journalists found themselves targeted by both sides after the cease-fire collapsed in August, much like the last time peace talks failed in November 2001. Government security forces detained as many as eight journalists without charge in the fall. Nepalese security forces in Kathmandu abducted one of them, Sitaram Baral, the assistant editor of the weekly Janaastha, on September 13 while he was on his way to conduct an interview. When he was released five days later, Baral alleged that he had been blindfolded and subjected to "mental and physical torture." Local journalists told CPJ that another journalist, Subhashankar Kandel, editor of the weekly Janadharana, was reportedly taken from his home in the capital, Kathmandu, on September 9 by plainclothes security forces. He was held in army custody before being released on October 3. Kandel said that soldiers severely beat him while he was in custody.

Maoist rebel forces also terrorized journalists in the fall of 2003. On September 7, a group of suspected Maoist rebels in Nepal's eastern Sindhupalchowk District brutally murdered Gyanendra Khadka, a journalist with the government news agency Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS). According to RSS, the group took Khadka from a school where he taught part-time and led him to a nearby field, where they tied his hands to a pole and slit his throat. Gyanendra's murder alarmed and outraged Nepalese journalists, and more than 100 defied a government ban on public gatherings to protest the killing. According to news reports, at least 40 journalists were arrested for breaking the ban, which had been imposed in the wake of the cease-fire breakdown, but they were released after a few hours.

Local journalists told CPJ that Gyanendra's murder, detentions of journalists in Kathmandu and around the country, and torture allegations have had a chilling effect on the media in Nepal, spreading fear and self-censorship. While some publications have been more daring in their coverage in 2003, criticizing the army for human rights violations and reporting on atrocities committed by Maoist rebels, other newspapers have been cowed by threats in retaliation for their articles. Rajendra Dahl, editor of the Nepali-language bimonthly Himal Khabarpatrika, told CPJ that he started receiving threatening phone calls after he ran an issue in October reviewing the king's performance on the throne in 2003. Dahl said his investors have also received threats and pressure to stop critical reporting about the king.


2003 Documented Cases – Nepal

JANUARY 10, 2003

Rabin Prasad Thapalia, Ruprekha
THREATENED

On February 24, Thapalia, a young reporter who has contributed to the weekly newspaper Ruprekha, which is published in Nuwakot District, told journalists in the capital, Kathmandu, that he had received death threats from Nepal's Maoist rebels. Thapalia showed journalists two letters he had received in response to an article he wrote for Ruprekha following a Maoist attack in Arghakhanchi District in September 2002. Thapalia's article had focused on the widows of government security officers killed by the rebels.

The first letter – dated January 10, 2003, and signed by a Maoist leader named Rakshyak – complained to Thapalia that his article "termed us terrorists and praised the role of the army, the hired dogs of King Gyanendra," according to a translation prepared by a CPJ source. The letter stated that Thapalia had one month to submit a detailed criticism of his article to the Maoists' local headquarters and to issue a public apology. Otherwise, said the letter, "We will be compelled to give you safaya," or the death penalty.

Under pressure from relatives worried about his safety, Thapalia says, he published an apology in Ruprekha but then received another letter from the Maoists at the end of January saying that the apology was inadequate. The second letter issued another ultimatum, giving Thapalia 15 days to comply with the order to criticize his article "word by word" – adding that, "We are still committed to giving you the death penalty if you fail to do so."

Thapalia, who was studying journalism at a college in Kathmandu, did not respond to the second letter.

FEBRUARY 15, 2003

Deepak Bahadur Thapa, Nepal Samacharpatra
HARASSED

In mid-February, reporters for the national newspaper Nepal Samacharpatra learned that Thapa, Accham-based correspondent for the paper, had been confined to his village, Thapsa Gaon, in the western district of Accham, for the last three months on the orders of local Maoist leaders who control the area. The Maoist leadership threatened Thapa, saying he would be in danger if he attempted to leave the village, according to Nepal Samacharpatra editor Kapil Kafle. The rebels have accused Thapa of writing against their movement, Kafle said.

AUGUST 28, 2003

Ramahari Chaulugain, Sanghu
IMPRISONED

Chaulugain, a reporter for the weekly Sanghu (Bridge), was kidnapped near the paper's offices in a suburb of the capital, Kathmandu, by an unknown group suspected to be linked to government security forces.

While the motive for Chaulugain's kidnapping is unclear, his disappearance marked the beginning of a wave of attacks on journalists by government security forces and Maoist rebels following the rebels' decision to break a cease-fire agreement on August 27.

No known charges have been filed against him, and his whereabouts are unknown. Government forces detained at least four other journalists in the weeks following the end of the cease-fire.

SEPTEMBER 9, 2003

Subhashankar Kandel, Janadharana
IMPRISONED

Kandel, editor of the weekly Janadharana (People's Opinion), was reportedly taken from his home in Balaju Banasthali, in the northern part of Kathmandu Valley, by plainclothes security forces. The incident occurred amid a wave of attacks on journalists by government security forces and Maoist rebels following the rebels' decision to break a cease-fire agreement on August 27. According to local journalists, Kandel was interrogated about books found in his home relating to communism, Maoism, and Leninism.

No known charges have been filed against him, and his whereabouts are unknown.

SEPTEMBER 13, 2003

Sitaram Baral, Janaastha
IMPRISONED

Baral, assistant editor of the weekly Janaastha, was abducted in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, by government security forces amid a wave of arrests and attacks on journalists that began after rebels broke a cease-fire agreement with government forces on August 27.

Four days later, authorities released Baral, according to local journalists. Local sources alleged that during his detention, Baral was blindfolded and subjected to interrogations and "mental and physical torture." He was hospitalized after his release.

Premnath Joshi, Shangrila Voice
IMPRISONED

Joshi, editor and publisher of the English-language monthly Shangrila Voice, was arrested by government security forces at his home in the capital, Kathmandu, in the middle of the night on September 13 and taken to an undisclosed location.

Joshi's arrest came amid a wave of arrests and attacks on journalists by government security forces and Maoist rebels following the rebels' decision to end a cease-fire agreement on August 27. No known charges have been filed against the journalist, and his whereabouts are unknown.

SEPTEMBER 16, 2003

Gyanendra Khadka, Rastriya Samachar Samiti
KILLED – UNCONFIRMED

Khadka, 35, a journalist with the state-owned news agency Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS), was brutally murdered in Nepal's eastern Sindhupalchowk District by a group of suspected Maoist rebels.

According to RSS, the rebels took Khadka away from a school where he taught part-time and led him to a nearby field, where they tied his hands to a pole and slit his throat. No motive is known for his murder, but during Nepal's 7-year-old civil war, both rebels and government security forces have targeted journalists.

Khadka is the first journalist to be killed in Nepal since the rebels broke a cease-fire agreement with government forces in August. His murder came amid intensified violence in the country, as well as increased attacks on journalists.

Khadka's murder has outraged the journalist community in Nepal. A group of at least 30 journalists gathered to peacefully protest the killing on September 11, but police dispersed them and detained them briefly for defying a ban on demonstrations.

SEPTEMBER 21, 2003

Nawaraj Pahadi, Antarang
IMPRISONED

Pahadi, an editor for the weekly Antarang, was arrested by government security forces in Lamjung District, in western Nepal. Local sources told CPJ that he was detained on the order of a local government official in reprisal for publishing articles about corruption. According to the daily Space Time, Pahadi was arrested for publishing allegations of irregularities at the Middle Marsyangdi Hydro Power Plant. No known charges have been filed against him, and his whereabouts are unknown.

NOVEMBER 18, 2003
Posted: July 23, 2004

Dhana Bahadur Magar, Federation of Nepalese Journalists
IMPRISONED

Magar, a central council member of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) and secretary of the FNJ's Kathmandu office, was taken into custody by security forces.

In the wake of the government's broken cease-fire agreement with Maoist rebels, many journalists were targeted and detained by security forces. While the majority of journalists were held briefly and then released, Magar was held for eight months. According to the Center for Human Rights and Democracy Studies in the capital, Kathmandu, he was released on July 21, 2004.

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