Nepal: Killing the News
Censorship and jailing of journalists under the state of emergency
Revolutionary Worker #1160, July 28, 2002
I had been traveling with a people's army
platoon for over two weeks through the jagged countryside
of Rolpa--deep in the guerrilla zones where Maoist base areas
were being established. For security reasons, we had to keep
moving. So most of the time, we stayed in a village for only
one night and left early in the morning. But in this village,
we had the day to rest, wash our clothes, and take a bath.
It was an easy day--a brief respite from
the intense conditions and pace of our journey. And in the
afternoon, as the sun dried our clothes, we all had a chance
to sit around and relax.
Police in the guerrilla zones didn't allow
revolutionary newspapers into the area. You could be arrested,
possibly shot, for bringing any kind of Maoist literature
into Rolpa. But someone had smuggled in an issue of Janadesh--
one of the Maoist newspapers printed in Kathmandu. When they
pulled it out of their pocket, a cheer went up in the room.
The issue was a couple of weeks old, but the guerrillas eagerly
passed it around, pouring over every article, reading some
parts aloud. Battle news from around the country and revolutionary
analysis and commentary provided a lifeline for these rebels.
And all afternoon, the already tattered newspaper, limp from
being folded and refolded so many times, traveled around the
room--and was then carefully put away so it could travel to
This is a scene from 1999 when I went to
Nepal as a revolutionary journalist to cover the popular Maoist
People's War. I thought of this when I heard about the police
shutting down Janadesh at the end of last year.
On November 26, 2001, police in Kathmandu
raided the offices of three publications that had openly supported
the Maoist People's War: Janadesh , Janadisha ,
and Dishabodh . Police arrested nine staff members,
including seven journalists, and confiscated equipment and
The arrests took place only hours before
the government declared a state of emergency and enacted the
Terrorist and Destructive Activities (Control and Punishment)
ordinance, which named the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist)
a "terrorist organization" and therefore illegal. The government
also announced that any organizations or individuals supporting
the CPN(M) and its activities would be considered terrorists.
Under the new regulations, "terrorism" would carry a life
The journalists arrested in the raid were
held in solitary confinement for 26 days before their families
were finally able to visit them.
The state of emergency gave security forces
new powers to detain people, and the November 26 raid on Janadesh
was the start of a new intense campaign by the government
to control and crack down on the press. At the same time,
the Royal Nepalese Army launched a vicious "search and destroy"
campaign in the countryside--that is going on to this day--killing
hundreds of people suspected of being Maoist "sympathizers"
In the weeks after the state of emergency
began, many more Maoist journalists were arrested. But the
target of the government's assault on the press quickly widened
to include all kinds of newspapers, and TV and radio stations.
Many mainstream editors and writers were picked up and interrogated--not
because they were suspected of being Maoists, but simply because
they had tried to run news stories about the People's War.
All kinds of civil rights had been suspended.
Battles were going on in the countryside involving hundreds,
sometimes thousands of people. Peasants in the countryside
were being killed by government forces. For the first time,
government soldiers were being killed by guerrillas. This
was the biggest news in the country. Yet the government was
determined to prevent reporters from covering what was going
on. Journalists were banned from battle areas, the army told
the media they had to get permission before publishing any
news about military affairs and that the only news of battles
allowed would be those news reports issued by the government.
Journalists were picked up because they had
run photos of or quoted Maoist leaders. At least one editor
reported he had been ordered to "stop publishing any statements
from the Maoists." Some editors were targeted because their
newspapers had been critical of the state of emergency or
On November 28, authorities seized all copies
of the Kathmandu Post--the largest English- language
daily in Nepal--after the newspaper ran a photo of several
Maoist leaders. Government officials warned the paper's editors
not to publish articles or photos that "glorify" the Maoist
movement. The same day, the Ministry of Information and Communication
issued a statement listing several topics not allowed ,
including reports that "create hatred and disrespect against
His Majesty the King and the Royal Family"; "Anything that
is likely to create hatred against [the] Royal Nepal Army,
police and civil servants and lower their morale and dignity";
"News that support[s] Maoist terrorist[s] including individual[s]
or groups"; and "Any matters that aim at overthrowing elected
government." The statement also encouraged the media to publish
official news and reports "regarding bravery and achievements
of [the] Royal Nepal Army, police and civil servants."
In the first six months of emergency rule,
more than 100 journalists and other media workers were detained
and 30 to 40 are still in custody. Many of these people have
been members of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ),
the mainstream organization of journalists in Nepal.
All this--the state of emergency, the crackdown
on the press, and the government's whole war on the People's
War-- could not be carried out without military, political,
and economic support from India and the major imperialist
powers. India has stepped up its supply of arms to the Royal
Nepalese Army. And the United States, Britain, Russia, and
Germany have all pledged to help the Nepalese government fight
the Maoists as part of the worldwide "war on terrorism." And
Nepal's King Gyanendra recently went to China where he was
promised help in fighting the People's War.
This is not the first time the Nepalese government
has cracked down on the press. After the June 2001 palace
massacre of the King and several family members of the royal
family (by the King's son), police arrested the editor and
two directors of the mainstream daily newspaper and publishing
house, Kantipur. All three were charged with treason
for printing an article by top Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai
that called on Nepalese citizens to reject the newly crowned
King Gyanendra as a "puppet of Indian expansionist forces."
The government was later forced to drop the case.
And since the start of the People's War in
1996, there have been many attacks on revolutionary journalists.
During my 1999 trip to Nepal I interviewed Maoist writers
who talked about government repression of the press. People
told me that of the 300 different newspapers in Nepal, most
of them were carrying news about the People's War. But the
government was clamping down--not only on the revolutionary
press, but on all kinds of other papers that had printed articles
about the Maoists.
One writer told me about the raids on Maoist
newspapers: "Police attacked the revolutionary newspaper Janadesh--14
people were arrested the second week of January, including
senior journalists and advisors. Police confiscated the computers,
cameras, office equipment illegally. Ten were released after
one week and four were held in jail for over a month and charged
with treason. The court later had to dismiss these charges
for lack of evidence but none of the materials/equipment have
been returned. Fifteen days ago Jwala was raided by
the police and three people were arrested. Then two days later
two from Janabahan were arrested -- the editor and
the executive editor. Five are still in jail. At Jwala
the police confiscated computers. One photo journalist
(freelance) has also been arrested."
The young comrade also talked about other
ways the government was trying to stop people from getting
revolutionary newspapers. He said, "In January, six from a
printing place were arrested, one was the owner, the others
were pressmen and workers. They were later released and will
now no longer print Janadesh --the police threatened
them and they agreed to stop. The revolutionary papers are
prohibited in the main zones where the People's War is being
waged and readers and sellers are arrested. But ways are being
found to get the papers distributed again in these areas.
Legally, the government cannot ban the paper but it is doing
this in other ways, with arrests, raids, etc. aimed at stopping
the publications altogether."
I also interviewed some lawyers in Kathmandu
who were involved with human rights issues. One lawyer told
me, "Preventive detention came into law in 1991 but only started
to be used two years ago . According to this, they can
keep people in custody for three months, but this can be extended
another three months by the cabinet ministry and the person
can be detained even longer. They also let people out after
some time and then immediately arrest them again. People are
supposed to have the right of habeas corpus but there is a
lot of false evidence and frame-ups."
Under the new state of emergency, preventive
detention has allowed the government to jail people for months
without charging them with anything. Sometimes their families
are not given any information about their whereabouts. For
example, in March, the police arrested Gopal Budhathoki, editor
of the weekly Sanghu , and advisor of the Kathmandu
Federation of Nepalese Journalists district committee. Sanghu
had frequently reported on the arbitrary killings of civilians
by the army and government corruption. For four days the government
denied knowing anything about Budhathoki. But after protest
from human rights groups and the press, the Prime Minister
admitted the army had detained him for publishing reports
which "encouraged and raised the morale of the Maoists" and
"fabricating" articles about the security forces for the sole
purpose of "spreading rumors and demoralizing the army."
Gopal Budhathoki had published articles about
some financial irregularities related to helicopter purchases
made by the Nepalese Army. The Prime Minister stated that
"publishing information of this kind is equivalent to directly
collaborating with the terrorists."
"The troops do as they please. They completely
violate the laws by arresting, questioning, torturing and
detaining suspects, especially journalists."
Raj Pyakurel, General Secretary of the Nepalese human rights
I was in Nepal when Krishna Sen, editor of
the Maoist newspaper Janadesh, was arrested after he
published an interview with top CPN (Maoist) leader Babarum
Bhattarai. He was jailed for 22 months under provisions of
the "Public Security Act" which sanctions preventive detention
for those considered a "threat to domestic security and tranquility."
He was arrested again under the state of emergency in May
and it has now been reported that he was tortured to death
while in custody. Revolutionaries have been greatly saddened
and outraged by the news, and journalists and human rights
activists around the world are protesting and demanding the
government reveal the full details of what happened to Krishna
Sen (see article "International Outrage at the Murder of Krishna
According to human rights activists and relatives
of those imprisoned, most of the journalists accused of being
sympathetic to the Maoists have been tortured. One woman said,
"My husband was tortured during the first two or three days
of his confinement in the army barracks. His hands and feet
were bound and he was given electric shocks."
The Kathmandu human rights group INSEC interviewed
individuals tortured by the police or the military and says
prisoners are forced to keep their heads down all day long
and are being interrogated once a day. They are forced to
undress and then beaten with an iron bar. Those who survive
and are released are told they will be killed if they talk
about what happened to them in prison.
A few days after the state of emergency was
declared, Shankar Khanal, who worked with the state- owned
radio station Radio Nepal and the Space Time daily,
was arrested along with Ganga Bista, a correspondent with
the Nepalese state-owned television and local newspaper
Chautari Times . The two young journalists were interrogated
and tortured. INSEC reported that "The police forced them
to take off their clothes--then struck them and splashed them,
first with hot water, then with cold water. And they did this
several times a day." The two men had covered many Maoist
demonstrations in the past and the torture was aimed at getting
them to reveal the names of their "Maoist contacts." After
protests from human rights organizations, Shankar Khanal was
released in March. But Ganga Bista remains in custody.
When I was in Nepal, I interviewed some lawyers
in the Supreme Court Bar Association who talked about the
torture of political prisoners. One of them said, "Our Constitution
prohibits the death penalty but in practice people are being
killed mercilessly and no investigation is done into such
murders. The law and Constitution provides that inquiries
should take place in such cases, but the government doesn't
commission any inquiry into such events. In this manner hundreds
of Nepali citizens have been massacred by the administration.
And hundreds of men and women have been arrested and put into
jail and they are charged with fake cases... These days, the
government prefers to just kill people. There is inhuman torture
in jail. The Constitution stipulates that no one should be
tortured and should be presented before court within 24 hours
of arrest, habeas corpus--but all this is violated."
Another lawyer told me, "There is physical
torture, especially rape, electric shock, and beating the
feet with an iron pipe. There are also new forms of torture
like forcing people to stand still, blindfolded. They take
people in a car and interrogate them in another area far away.
There is the use of an iron pipe on the body, hanging by the
feet upside down, putting hot water on people, etc. Some people
are mentally disturbed after being tortured in custody. The
police also give disinformation, saying that someone in custody
has denounced his party or surrendered. They also spread lies
against Maoists, accusing some of sexual affairs, financial
Today, lawyers like those I interviewed,
who defend political prisoners and are working to expose the
government, have themselves been targeted by the government
for arrest. In March, Ramnath Mainali, a lawyer who was working
on behalf of Janadesh , was arrested by a dozen plainclothes
members of the security force. Mainali had defended, among
others, Janadesh editors Govinda Acharya and Krishna
Relatives of political prisoners have also
been harassed, even arrested, for demanding their legal rights.
Govinda Acharya's wife, Sabitree Acharya, was arrested by
the Army after she filed a writ of habeas corpus, trying to
get her husband released. Sabitree has now become one of those
who have "disappeared."
Journalist, legal and human rights organizations
in Nepal and internationally have been protesting the blatant
censorship of the news in Nepal and the arrest, torture and
murder of journalists.
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ)
from New York, and the Paris-based Reporters Sans FrontiŠres
(Reporters without Borders) sent fact-finding teams to Nepal
and have both issued extensive reports, exposing the government's
campaign of repression against the press. Both groups have
been organizing protests and finding different ways to let
people know about what is happening to journalists in Nepal.
The team from Reporters Sans FrontiŠres
(RSF) met with journalists, managing editors, human rights
activists, and lawyers and families of imprisoned journalists.
One Kathmandu journalist told RSF, "The litany of deaths announced
daily in the press and the presence of military patrols in
the streets of Kathmandu have created an atmosphere of war
that we have never experienced before."
At least 30 journalists and other media people
are currently being held for alleged acts of terrorism under
the government's "Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Ordinance
(TADO). None of them has been sentenced, and their families
have been prevented from initiating any habeas corpus procedures.
The CPJ delegation, including Pulitzer Prize
winner Josh Friedman, met with many of the journalists who
have been abducted by security forces and held incommunicado.
The group discovered that the majority of arrests were carried
out illegally and that many of those arrested had been abused.
Some journalists said they had been disappointed that the
international community did not challenge the government's
sweeping attacks on the press back in November.
Journalists also told CPJ members that it
has been virtually impossible to get accurate information
about the government's military offensive against the Maoists
- and that casualty figures provided by the Defense Ministry
were mostly unreliable.
When I traveled into the guerrilla zones
in Nepal, in every village, peasants told me how important
it was for journalists to tell their story--to let the world
know about the brutal campaigns being waged by the government
and their struggle for liberation.
In the three years since I went to Nepal,
the People's War has grown and intensified tremendously. In
the countryside, there are fierce battles between the Royal
Nepalese Army and the People's Liberation Army--involving,
at times, several hundred, even thousands, of peasants. And
despite the government's attempts to censor, control and distort
the news, it is clear that the People's War is continuing
to gain support, build base areas, and launch successful military
The government's interrogation, incarceration,
torture and murder of journalists is a desperate attempt to
cover up the truth and disseminate all kinds of disinformation.
The people cannot let them get away with this. The journalists
unjustly jailed must be freed. The press must be allowed to
tell the truth. And revolutionary journalists and others trying
to accurately report on the People's War in Nepal must be
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolution
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