In the Royal Proclamation of February 1, Your Majesty dismissed the government, declared a state of emergency and curtailed civil liberties. In early February, we visited Nepal's ambassador to the United States, Kedar Bhakta Shrestha, who assured us that restrictions on the press were temporary and that Your Majesty was committed to democracy and free expression.
The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned that press conditions continue to deteriorate. Hundreds of journalists are out of work, and fresh directives restrict reporting nationwide. CPJ is particularly troubled by the arrests of dozens of journalists. While many were released after a short time in detention, others remain imprisoned.
The well-documented detention of the following journalists is unacceptable, and is a disturbing indication of the risks faced by all reporters during the state of emergency, especially in rural areas:
- D.R. Panta, a correspondent for Kantipur Publications who is based in the far western district of Dadeldhura, was arrested on February 13 after calling for an end to press censorship. He was given a three-month sentence under the Public Security Act, and remains imprisoned at the district police office in Dadeldhura, according to the human rights group INSEC and the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ). He is also known as D.R. Pant.
- On March 3, security forces in the eastern province of Panchthar arrested Lavadev Dhungana for reporting on protests by local student unions against the proclamation of February 1. Chief District Officer Janardan Sharma told reporters that he was detained because his actions endangered public security. Local authorities are holding him in preventive detention for three months under the Public Security Act. Dhungana, who is district president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, executive editor of Panchthar Times, and a correspondent for Kantipur daily, is currently under house arrest, INSEC reports.
- On March 14, Channel Nepal correspondent Sharad Adhikari was arrested while covering political demonstrations in the mid-western district of Dang. Adhikari, who is also a central committee member of the FNJ, is being detained under the Public Security Act and is held at the district jail in Dang, according to INSEC and the FNJ.
- On March 25, Ganesh Mahar, a freelance journalist based in Dadeldhura was arrested while reporting on a meeting of banned political parties. The FNJ has said that he will be held in Dadeldhura jail for 90 days. Mahar is the former district secretary of the FNJ in the far-western district of Kachanpur, former chief editor of the Farwest Daily, and executive editor of Sahakarmi Weekly. CPJ also requests information on the status of the following journalists: Dev Raj Rimal, Dristi Weekly correspondent; Rupak Dev Adhikari, correspondent for the Indian newspaper Sundhari and a photojournalist with Reuters; Gopal Bairaili, a member of the FNJ; Arjun Prasad Shah, an FNJ member; Manohar Pokhrel, an FNJ member; Ganesh Lama, a reporter with Janoprahar weekly; Madhu Acharya, a columnist with Kavre Post; and Arjun Dhanuk, a reporter for Avimat weekly All of them were arrested in recent weeks and CPJ is concerned that they may remain under detention for their journalistic work.
As an independent organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, CPJ urges Your Majesty to ensure the immediate release of all journalists, and the restoration of conditions in which they can work. During a state of violent conflict between the government and Maoist rebels, journalists must be allowed to serve the crucial role of watchdog against abuses by both sides. And at this vital juncture, citizens need the press to provide a forum for public debate. When journalists are at risk of prolonged imprisonment simply for reporting on political opposition, as they are in Nepal's rural areas, there can be no independent journalism.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your reply.