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INTERNATIONAL MISSION DEMANDS END TO ATTACKS ON PRESS

Despite the recent passage of the Right to Information Act and steps taken to protect journalists, attacks on the media continue unabated in Nepal, an international monitoring coalition has concluded.

The International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Nepal, which has been monitoring the developments in Nepal since the April 2006 revolution, reports that there have been more than 116 incidents of attempts to prevent journalists from doing their jobs between 1 January and 31 July 2007 alone.

These incidents include arrests, attacks on media companies, abduction of journalists, threats and harassment, and obstructions to the free flow of information, including disruptions in the production processes. Just last week, a Maoist labour union again prevented two privately-owned dailies, the "Himalayan Times" and "Annapurna Post", from being printed and distributed, the Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES) and the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) report. Both papers had carried a story on 11 August against the union for blocking their distribution for six days in July. The union's leaders said they would "kill anyone daring to distribute" the two papers, and some union members blocked access to the papers' editorial offices.

When the Nepalese Press Union held a peaceful demonstration in Kathmandu on 9 August, 49 journalists were beaten and seriously injured by members of the Communist Youth League, according to Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF).

In July, 49 journalists working for the government-owned Gorkhapatra Corporation were fired. FNJ says their axing - and the promotion of employees within the media group who were active against the democratic movement of April 2006 - was politically motivated. And when journalists attempted to demonstrate for the reinstatement of the 49 reporters earlier this month, they were arrested.

"It is disturbing that the same media which played a leading role in the restoration of democracy a year ago have now become the target of attacks from various groups," said the International Mission in a statement.

These threats to press freedom come just months before a constituent assembly is to be elected in November, which will adopt a new constitution for Nepal. "A free and fairly elected constituent assembly remains the next vital step in Nepal's peace process," says the International Mission. "But the lack of such a plural and unobstructed media environment throughout the country, and specifically in those areas affected by conflict, could jeopardise a free and fair outcome to the elections."

The International Mission includes eight IFEX members: ARTICLE 19, Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International Press Institute (IPI), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters (AMARC), World Association of Newspapers (WAN) and World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC). The other members are: FreeVoice, International Media Support (IMS), International News Safety Institute (INSI) and United Nations Education, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Visit these links:
- International Mission's statement: http://tinyurl.com/3ygocu
- Report of Mission's First Visit to Nepal (July 2005): http://tinyurl.com/d65rk
- FNJ: http://www.fnjnepal.org/
- CEHURDES: http://www.cehurdes.org.np/
- IFJ Nepal page: http://www.ifj-asia.org/page/nepal.html
- IFEX alerts on Nepal: http://tinyurl.com/3ykcoq
(Photo courtesy of IFJ)

(21 August 2007)

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