The level and extent of the highhandedness of the security forces in dealing with the movement led by the five political parties can be guessed from the way journalists and human rights activists have been arrested, detained or beaten up. Reporters and photographers of both print and electronic media have not been spared since the movement got under way nearly three weeks ago. Wearing green vests or carrying identity cards has not worked. On Friday, some 75 scribes had been arrested, including those beaten up, and detained. The government had proceeded even to formally charge several of them, but amid national and international protests, the idea was dropped. The government version was that journalists were involved in stone throwing. However, it is hard to believe the accusations without proof. Giving the government the benefit of the doubt, even if one or two might have resorted to this act, how could the arrests of dozens and bashing up of several be explained? What has been done to scribes is therefore extremely deplorable.
The government has no convincing answer. Certainly, the procession the journalists had taken out on Saturday under the Federation of Nepalese Journalists carried a banner and placards to register their protests against the ill-treament of their fellow scribes the day before. The security forces intervened and arrested them, who had not indulged in violence. Moreover, a number of the journalists on Saturday may not have come to take part in the political movement proper but just to demonstrate solidarity. Domestic human rights organisations apart, international bodies such as Amnesty International have called on the government to allow legitimate political expression and stop arresting and detaining people without charges. The National Human Rights Commission has charged it with failure to fulfil even a single of the 25 human rights commitments it had recently made. The ill-treatment of demonstrators or even bystanders, particularly journalists and human rights activists, is likely to boo-merang on the government as it will fuel the movement to which professional and non-political bodies are increasingly expressing their support and even participation. It would also weaken the credibility of commitments of those in power to multiparty democracy and raise doubts about their motives behind holding the elections soon. Using force to take the steam out of the movement does not appear to be proving effective. It will invite more force, making the national political crisis even worse at a time when the country needs peace at any cost. If a democratic reconciliation is not reached soon, the movement may take a dangerous turn, enabling a third force to capture power or even seriously threatening the very integration of the country.