Human Rights Watch

OCTOBER 28, 2005
3:10 PM

CONTACT: Human Rights Watch
1-(212) 290-4700

Nepal: Attacks on Media Freedoms Expand
Radio Station Closed, Offices Raided

NEW YORK – The Nepali government should immediately reverse its decision to close the popular radio station Kantipur FM and end censorship of the media, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch called for the repeal of a draconian new ordinance imposed by King Gyanendra on October 9, 2005, that places a blanket prohibition on any news-related items on the radio, as well as other harsh strictures against the media.  
Just before midnight on October 21, officials from the Ministry of Information, accompanied by armed security guards, arrived at Kantipur FM and demanded that the station abide by the media ordinance. Without a court order, police confiscated all the station’s operating equipment, making it impossible for the station to operate. On October 27, the government ordered Kantipur FM to shut down entirely.  
“The new media ordinance takes unlawful censorship imposed since the King’s coup and enshrines it into law,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Press freedom in Nepal is moving from endangered to extinct.”  
Kantipur FM is the largest of the country’s radio networks. In a mountainous country with high levels of illiteracy, radio stations are often the only source of news. Shutting down Kantipur FM sends a clear signal to smaller stations that any broadcasts of news will lead to their closure by the government.  
On October 27, Nepal’s Supreme Court ordered a stay on the closure of Kantipur FM––an order that has had no practical effect, as the government has kept the station’s equipment and the station remains off the air––pending a full hearing on October 30.  
Human Rights Watch said it hoped the Supreme Court would uphold the station’s claim that the ban is an illegal infringement on the right to freedom of expression under domestic and international law. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Nepal ratified in 1991, provides for the right to free expression, including the freedom to “seek, receive and impart information”.  
“Although the government has a history of willfully ignoring court orders, the judiciary must take up the challenge and make an independent and informed decision on Sunday,” said Adams. “The judiciary has now become the last best hope for the future of the free press in Nepal.”  
King Gyanendra took power in a February coup. One of his first steps was to impose strict censorship on all media. Dozens of editors and journalists around the country have been arrested at various times since the coup and released. Editors of major newspapers were summoned and told what they could and could not report. Narayan Wagle, editor of Kantipur’s print newspaper, has been called in several times for questioning for defying censorship rules.  
The October ordinance continues restrictions already in place. In addition to the ban on the broadcast of news, the ordinance affects other forms of media as well. The right of political parties to provide information on their programs during election periods has been weakened without explanation. Journalists’ licenses can be cancelled summarily and defamation provisions that include harsh criminal penalties have been extended to cover broadcast media.