REGIONS:

PRESS FREEDOM VIOLATIONS SURROUND ELECTIONS, SAYS INTERNATIONAL MISSION

As Nepal headed into the long-anticipated constituent assembly elections on 10 April, press freedom violations continued unabated across the country, say an international mission and local IFEX members the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) and the Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES).

Despite a government promise earlier this year to "take seriously" the safety of media workers, FNJ noted 61 instances of media rights violations in the campaign period starting 1 January, including an alarming 20 cases of physical attacks.

The International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Nepal, a collaboration of international media advocacy and media development organisations, including IFEX members International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the International Press Institute (IPI) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF), was in Nepal to help support local groups monitor media violation during the elections, a "crucial transition period." The elected assembly is to decide the fate of the monarchy and write a new constitution for the country.

Nearly 100 monitors were spread throughout the regions, helping to negotiate in conflicts regarding media rights, safety, transportation difficulties and access to information.

In some districts, such as Kaski and Rautahat, district officials denied some journalists transportation permits to cover the elections, says the mission. Localised general strikes, particularly in the southern Madhesh areas, limited physical movement and threatened journalists' and citizens' safety.

Other journalists were threatened and assaulted, as well as denied access to information from local government authorities. Security officials would not release information or respond to journalist inquiries about six Maoists killed on 8 April in Lamahi Bazaar on a main highway in Dang district, close to the Indian border. When the news of the clash was finally aired on local FM radio, a district correspondent received death threats.

The election campaign was plagued by violence and intimidation by all the political parties, says Human Rights Watch. Their behaviour "could threaten Nepal's transition to democracy and peace in the post-election period," says the mission.

Although the mission focused on media freedom and media safety specifically around the elections, the mission partners also noted the limited potential of the media because of long-term structural issues. They range from self-censorship because of continuing threats and intimidation to a lack of legal reforms guaranteeing free expression and public service media.

The mission has now left Nepal, but its work is not done. "We emphasise the need for continued vigilance on issues of media freedom in the ongoing vote count, the formation of the new government and during the constitution-writing process in the newly-elected constituent assembly," says the mission.

A full mission report on the media monitoring project will come out at the end of the election process.

Visit these links:
- International Mission statement: http://tinyurl.com/6oefy4
- FNJ: http://www.fnjnepal.org/
- CEHURDES: http://www.cehurdes.org.np/
- Human Rights Watch: http://tinyurl.com/6avg3u
- IFEX Nepal page: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/155/
(15 April 2008)

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