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Last Updated: Monday, 3 May, 2004, 12:15 GMT 13:15 UK
Nepal journalists fight for voice
By Bhagirath Yogi
BBC Nepali service

Journalists protest on World Press Freedom Day in Kathmandu. Photo: Min Bajracharya
Journalists mark World Press Freedom Day in Kathmandu
On 7 September last year, Maoist rebels took journalist and teacher Gyanendra Khadka from his classroom in the town of Jyamire, north-east of Kathmandu.

Gyanendra reported regularly on atrocities committed by both the security forces and the rebels.

He was tied to a post and his throat was cut in front of the villagers.

Gyanendra was one of six Nepalese journalists killed in the past year - three by government forces, two by the Maoists and one by an unidentified group.

People's War

Their plight was highlighted on Monday - World Press Freedom Day - in a report by a Kathmandu-based watchdog that monitors press freedom in Nepal.

Clearly, writing news reports, taking photographs or sending dispatches for radio stations continue to be hazardous professions in the country.

More journalists were arrested in Nepal in 2003 than in any other country in the world
Reporters Sans Frontieres

The report by the Centre for Human Rights and Democratic Studies also records the fate of Binod Sajana Chaudhary, who used to work for a pro-Maoist paper.

On 27 September 2003, security forces shot and killed him, along with one of his comrades, in far-western Nepal.

Reports said he was unarmed and was shot even after flashing his ID.

Since the launch of the "People's War" in early 1996 by the underground Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), Nepalese media personnel have found themselves in the frontline of the conflict.

According to the human rights centre, at least 26 journalists were forced from their homes or work places in the past year amid threats by the Maoists or security forces.

Seven journalists are still missing - five of them reportedly arrested by security personnel.

Street protests

By any account, it has been a difficult year for Nepalese journalists.

"More journalists were arrested in Nepal in 2003 than in any other country in the world," says Paris-based international watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders), in its latest report.

"It was a grim year for press freedom in the country," it said.

Police counter a protest on 1 May in Kathmandu
Nepal is wracked by protests against King Gyanendra

Editor of Kathmandu-based Himal Khabarpatrika, Rajendra Dahal, says the growing influence of the Nepalese media is behind the rising attacks from both government forces and the rebels.

"Nepalese media is no longer dependant on any particular party or side to accomplish its job. And, autocrats with guns, anywhere in the world, don't want the truth to come to the fore," he told the BBC.

With no elected parliament, no elected local bodies and the government fighting for its legitimacy, Nepalese people find media the only credible source of news and opinion.

Fearing a loss of press freedom, Nepalese journalists now seem to be determined to fight for their rights.

On 17 April, over 300 journalists, along with dozens of human rights activists and professionals, took to the Kathmandu streets, defying the government's ban on peaceful assemblies.

They were protesting against what they called police high-handedness in arresting 70 journalists who were covering anti-king demonstrations. The journalists were released later without charge.

With political parties organising demonstrations almost daily against King Gyanendra's move to dismiss an elected government in October 2002, journalists have been setting their own agenda.

"We have been demanding that Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa make a public apology and sack the home and communications minister, Kamal Thapa, for serious police atrocities against media personnel," said Taranath Dahal, president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists.

"We will continue our fight until there is an environment in which we can work freely and without fear."

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