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CEHURDES expresses concern over holding back of newsprint in India

(CEHURDES/IFEX) - Kathmandu, 25 June 2010 - The Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES) - a Kathmandu-based freedom of expression monitoring group - has expressed concern at the holding back of newsprint imported by a leading private sector publishing house in Nepal. Indian authorities have been withholding the shipment of newsprint for the last four weeks.

According to "The Kathmandu Post" daily, 1,000 metric tonnes of newsprint imported by the Kantipur Publications from Canada and South Korea are being held at the Kolkata port since May 27. Indian authorities from the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence have been holding back the consignment on the pretext of "investigation", the news report said.

"No investigation, however, has been carried out despite repeated requests. Nor has Kantipur Publications been given a clear explanation for the continued delay, which has meant heavy demurrage fees and the possibility of the newsprint getting damaged," the newspaper said.

Kantipur Publications is the publisher of two leading dailies - "Kantipur" and "The Kathmandu Post" - as well as a number of other periodicals.

In a statement issued on 23 June, the Indian Embassy in Kathmandu said, "Customs examination of transit consignments is a routine administrative measure and the imputation of motives in such a matter by two newspapers, which seek to lay claim to responsible journalism, is highly regrettable."

Nepali politicians, media outlets, the National Human Rights Commission (Nepal) and the Delhi-based Asian Human Rights Commission have called upon the governments of Nepal and India to look into the matter and take steps to resolve the dispute as soon as possible.

As a landlocked country, Nepal imports most of its goods, including fuel, via India. The bilateral transit treaty aims to facilitate inflow of goods to Nepal in a smooth manner. Nepal's transit rights are also protected by the 1982 Convention on the Law of the Sea. Article 125 of the Convention says:

"Landlocked countries shall have the right of access to and from the sea for the purpose of exercising the right provided for this convention, including those relating to the freedom of the high sea and the common heritage of mankind. To this end, landlocked states shall enjoy freedom of transit through the territory of transit states by all means of transport."

CEHURDES is concerned about the continued holding back of the newsprint by Indian authorities on "flimsy grounds". We call upon the government of Nepal to take up the issue at the highest level with India without further delay and ensure that the newsprint imported by Kantipur Publications is released as soon as possible.

We also call upon Kantipur Publications to fulfill the necessary legal and administrative formalities, if any, while importing the consignment.

We hold the view that given the sensitive nature of Nepal-India relations, no attempts should be made to gag the independent press in Nepal by whatsoever means. Nepali media have always advocated cordial, bilateral relations between the two countries on equal footing. We would like to emphasize that such a relation can be strengthened only by promoting freedom of press and freedom of expression in both countries, not the other way round.

CEHURDES will continue to monitor the evolving situation and will condemn any attempt aimed at curtailing press freedom and freedom of expression in Nepal.

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