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STATE OF EMERGENCY IMPERILS INFORMATION FLOW

Nepal has been plunged into a political crisis following a state of emergency, with communications with the outside world cut off and martial law imposed in the country.

On 1 February 2005, King Gyanendra sacked the government, ordered troops into the streets and closed the international airport. All communications, including e-mail, have been cut and privately-owned FM radio stations have been forced to cancel news programmes, report Human Rights Watch, the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF) and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

The IFEX members have expressed grave concerns about the safety of journalists and human rights, following the king's decision to restrict civil liberties, including freedom of the press, the constitutional protection against censorship and the right against preventive detention.

The King's decision is reportedly linked to the failure of the government, led by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba, to bring Maoist rebels to the negotiating table and to organise parliamentary elections next spring, says RSF. Armed guards have surrounded the homes of Deuba and other senior politicians. The King has announced the formation of a new cabinet which, he says, will "restore peace and effective democracy in this country within the next three years."

While privately-owned FM radios have been ordered to stop broadcasting, state-owned radio programmes and television stations are continuing to function.

This is not the first time that King Gyanendra has declared a state of emergency, says RSF. In November 2001, he imposed martial law and within four months, security forces had arrested more than 100 hundred journalists.

RSF says Nepal has the highest number of journalists arrested in the world.

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances (WGEID), which concluded a fact-finding mission to Nepal on 14 December 2004, says it has received more reports of disappearances in Nepal than from any other country in the world.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, has expressed serious concerns about the state of emergency. She has urged King Gyanendra to live up to his "unequivocal commitment to human rights, democracy and multiparty rule," which he expressed during Arbour's visit to Nepal in late January 2005.

Arbour says people are "being subjected to violence and brutality on a staggering scale as a result of the armed conflict between the government and the Maoist rebels."

See:

- Nepalese Journalist in Hiding: http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=2937&Language=EN
- IFJ:
http://www.ifj.org/default.asp?Index=2935&Language=EN
- RSF: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=12433
- Human Rights Watch: http://www.hrw.org/english/docs/2005/02/01/nepal10100.htm
- CPJ: http://www.cpj.org/news/2005/Nepal03feb05na.html
- Index on Censorship: http://tinyurl.com/9p8v8
- Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies: ttp://www.cehurdes.org.np/
- Kofi Annan Urges Restraint: http://tinyurl.com/3pfvb
- UN Human Rights Chief Expresses Concern: http://tinyurl.com/3z67j
(Image courtesy of RSF)

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