In what could be termed a brutal crackdown on the media, some 33 journalists were arrested and excessive force was used against protestors participating in a rally to mark the “Black Day,” the first anniversary of the King’s direct rule, in Kathmandu. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists had staged rallies all over the country on February 1 to protest against increasing assaults on the media. The police severely injured three journalists while showering the agitated crowd with batons and water cannons after the demonstrators tried to enter the ‘prohibited area’ in the valley.
The arrests and detention of journalists and human rights activists have become a routine feature in the country. Those calling for restoration of democracy and civil liberties hardly deserve to be treated with cruelty, especially in the light of the King’s renewed commitment to democratic norms. Worse still, such suppression would lead to further isolation of the country in the international arena, a fact reiterated by Aidan White, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), who the other day said in the capital that the international community was “losing patience over King Gyanendra’s anti-democratic actions.”
Meanwhile, Minister for Information and Communication, Shrish Shamsher Rana, has blamed Nepali journalists for playing a political role. But Rana did not talk about the political role played by the ‘other’ media that blindly support the establishment. The level of the government’s respect for media independence is evident from the curbs it has placed on them. Around 500 journalists have been arrested and released in past five months. Three journalists have been killed since February 1, 2005, and according to IFJ report half of the cases of press censorship in the world in 2005 occurred in Nepal. Regular intimidation and harassment of the members of the Fourth Estate by both the security forces and the Maoists is going to further compromise the freedom of press.