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Published: October 5th 2005
Nepal's king declared a state of emergency and effectively shut down the independent press with blanket news bans, military patrols at media outlets, and threatened reprisals against journalists.
King G imposed a six-month ban on what state radio described as critical reporting on government activities. Soldiers were posted at Nepal's major print and broadcast outlets, controlled television broadcasts, and vetted news articles, according to CPJ sources and international news reports.
Internet and telephone communication, including domestic land lines and mobile phones, were cut off today in the initial days after the state of emergency was declared. Some local reporters anonymously smuggled information from the country through satellite communications.
Editors at the major dailies Kathmandu Post and Kantipur were summoned by the principal press secretary of the king and warned that they may face military punishment, according to sources inside the country. Soldiers surrounded the offices of The Kathmandu Post and officers scanned all content before it went to print, according to a local source.
A news weekly, which has been critical of the monarch in the past, was placed under special army surveillance, local sources said. Eighteen soldiers led by a colonel entered the weekly's offices
at 6 p.m. on February 1 and detained journalists there until 11 a.m. the following day, a source told CPJ. The officer censored all contents and warned reporters to avoid criticizing the king or the army. "This has undoubtedly destroyed the fabric of democracy and has also confirmed that the lives of ordinary civilians as well as national values are in grave danger."
Now that I have left Nepal, I will post some of what I read and saw while in Kathmandu. I imagine that many are curious as to what is actually happening in Nepal. The government began blocking news transmissions from the BBC World Service on its state-run Radio Npl FM 103 station in the capital of Kthmndu, despite having signed an agreement to air news programs in their entirety the previous November.
The first 15 minutes of the news broadcast at the top of the hour was replaced with instrumental music featuring songs by the late Queen Aishworya, according to local news sources. Then the station reverted to its regularly scheduled, English-language news broadcast.
Local observers speculated that the programs were blocked to prevent news relating to the state of emergency in Npl from being aired.
After declaring a state of emergency on February 1, the government barred the almost 50 FM radio stations throughout the country from airing news programs. As a result, many radio journalists lost their jobs, and accurate news from remote areas of the country was difficult to obtain.
http://www.cpj.org/cases05/asia_cases05/nepal.html Dozens of Nepalese journalists were arrested in the capital, Kathmandu, and the neighboring district of Kavre as protests against media restrictions continued across the country. More than 40 journalists were briefly detained in police stations in Kathmandu, according to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) and other local sources.
Hundreds of journalists and their supporters gathered in Ratna Park, an area in the capital where the government has banned mass demonstrations, according to local journalists. Shortly after their protest began, riot police with batons began arresting the protesters, according to local and international news reports. The FNJ reported that 46 journalists, including FNJ President Bishnu Nisthuri, were loaded into vans and taken to Janasewa, Singha Durbar, and Kamalpokhari police stations
across the city.
Some journalists were injured as baton-wielding police attempted to round them up, FNJ and local journalists told CPJ. Journalists were demonstrating against reported government proposals to institute restrictive media laws, as well as the arrests and overnight detentions of journalists protesting in Kathmandu on June 8.
Despite the arrests, police were unable to stop the rally. Protesters continued marching through the restricted area, and the demonstration culminated with speeches calling for an end to restrictions on the press.
In the tourist hub, one would never think of political problems. One often thinks of the next meal or adventure. But while in Kathmandu, I came across a couple of protests, and missed a whole bunch. However, reports from Kathmandu's two daily papers revealed the high number of arrests and the frequency of the protests. They are on-going daily, a mixture of students and human rights' groups and politicians, old and young, male and female, protesting the king's take-over as well as many restrictions, reductions, or problems.
Just recently, an estimated 20-30,000 people
marched for peace in Kathmandu.
People are often beaten and tear-gassed and arrested by equipped riot police in these mostly peaceful protests.
The first I came across, I was held back by a few university guys who worried about a possible bomb explosion. I wanted to go ahead anyway but by the time we finished chatting, the protest seemed to have dispersed. Another day I was with a Tibetan friend when we came across a mass of protesters, mostly adults and human rights'ers, in a popular public space. I took some photos of the police lines and protesters, but didn't stay as long as I wanted to for worry of getting my friend into trouble.
Then, I tried to find the daily protests a couple of times, but was either too early, too late, or on the wrong street (they had changed the venue). So, unfortunately, I've missed the action. But there is action.
In the papers, there are some surprisingly outspoken criticisms of the king and police. And then there are some ass-kissing reports of his good intentions and well-received visits around the country.
I expected to encounter Maoists
on the last part of my Annapurna hike, but apparently they were on another fork of the trail (I talked with a girl later who had met them and argued with them!). When they meet tourists, they usually ask for a 'donation'. Some guides told me that to give is optional, and apparently some Italian and Israeli tourists were laughing in a Maoist officer's face. The Maoists issue a receipt upon donating, so that you only have to give once.
From what I've read and heard, hundreds or more of schoolchildren have been/are being abducted by the rebel group. The girl who argued with them said that their explanation was they want to educate (ie. indoctrinate) the children. I recall reading an article about a teacher who taught in Maoist schools. The curriculum was similar to a normal school, with the additional element of Maoist values and beliefs.
Schools that don't comply with Maoists' orders to shut down have been targeted in attacks.
On September 3, 2005, the Maoists announced a 3 month ceasefire, during which period they would use peaceful methods to propagate their political agenda. Some of their emphases were: (in the long-term)establishment of a
secular, socialist republic; (in the short-term) election to a constituent monarchy; and similarly, to strengthen the movement against a repressive monarchy. The government has so far refused to meet the ceasefire agreement, citing previous ceasefires which have been broken by Maoists.
Also in the beginning of September, the Nepal Supreme Court extended an order allowing FM station to broadcast the news, despite the government's petition to ban news broadcasts on FM stations. The government's reasoning on banning: since the country is facing a crisis, there is no need for FM stations to broadcast the news.
In a recent case, soldiers from the Nepali Army have been found (but not greatly punished) to have tortured a 15 year old girl, who then died in custody, because of alleged Maoist involvement.
http://hrw.org/english/docs/2005/09/29/nepal11801.htm "Torture and ill-treatment is systematically practised in Nepal by the police ... and the RNA (Royal Nepal Army) in order to extract confessions and to obtain intelligence," Manfred Nowak, U.N. Special Rapporteur on torture, told reporters."
Nowak said detainees were beaten with bamboo poles and plastic pipes and given electric shocks to the
Detainees were also bound to a pole, hung and beaten, especially on the soles of their feet, and were blindfolded and handcuffed for prolonged periods.
More than 12,500 people have been killed since the Maoist rebels launched their revolt to topple Nepal's monarchy and set up a communist republic.
Hundreds have gone missing, making the country of 26 million people one of the world's worst places for disappearances.
Nowak said the U.N. Commission on Human Rights had received "shocking evidence" of torture and mutilation carried out by the Maoists as well.
"Methods (by Maoists) included beatings with sticks on the legs, piercing of legs with metal rods, beatings with rifle butts on ankles, and even mutilation, such as amputation of toes," he said in a statement.
For more information on the conflict between Maoists and the government:
Just before leaving Nepal, I went to Nepalganj, in the west, with the hope of finding a refugee camp for Nepalis displaced by Maoist violence.
In my limited time there, I was unable to find out where the camp was located. However, I
was able to visit the hospital in town. At present, there were only 4 patients there from Maoist violence. Only. I guess in comparison to the number of patients admitted in the last 2 years ( 213, according to the hospital register book), it is a small number. They were men, 3 of whom were in their thirties or so. The 4th, and the worst off, was an older man who looked to be in his late sixties/mid seventies. He, like the other three, was a farmer. Two of the men were merely bystanders who took a bullet in the butt or leg. The old man and another man both had broken legs, due to beatings by Maoists.
When I scanned the register, the majority of injuries were blast injuries. Twenty-six were bullet wounds, presumably many were indirectly inflicted, many were directly afflicted. Of those twenty-six, quite a number were young: a boy of 6, a boy a 8, two 14 year old girls... About eight were in hospital because of physical assault.
And that is just one small region.
In a girls' orphanage near my guesthouse, ten girls from around the region now live permanently with
two caretakers. Some of them have parents killed by police, some by Maoists. Fortunately, these girls are receiving education and health care, and have their daily needs met by donations mostly from foreign NGOs.
It is interesting to consider what will happen. There is international pressure on the king to reform, to include political parties and pluralism again. In one newspaper report, he is said to have stated that his aim in taking control of power (Feb, 2005) was to fight the Maoists and work towards liberty and peace. Sound familiar?
There is also the problem of Bhutanese refugees, who number more than 100,000, in Eastern Nepal. They cannot return to Bhutan and have been forcibly turned back when trying to cross India ( Aug 3, 2005). Yet they don't have the rights of Nepalese citizens. The King has said that he will work towards a solution for the refugees, but many believe this is just to appease international pressure.
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