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Distribution of two national dailies blocked by Maoist offensive against independent media

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders has voiced concern about a growing threat to press freedom in Nepal as a Maoist labour union prevented two privately-owned national dailies, "The Himalayan Times" and "Annapurna Post", from being printed and distributed for the third day running.

"Members of the central committee of the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) gave us an undertaking in March 2006 to guarantee free expression and the right of journalists to move about freely in the course of their work," the press freedom organisation said. "But since the April 2006 democratic revolution and the installation of an interim government including former Maoist rebels, the latter have continued their attacks on media that are not allied with them, and their promises have been forgotten."

Reporters Without Borders added: "We appeal to the CPN-M and its affiliated unions to cease their attacks on press freedom and to respect the laws reestablishing civil rights and freedoms."

"The Himalayan Times" and "Annapurna Post" have not circulated since 11 August 2007, when a pro-Maoist union called the All Nepal Communication, Printing and Publication Workers began preventing the newspapers from leaving printing works in Bhaisepathi (district of Lalitpur).

The 11 August issues of both newspapers had stories about a complaint which their managements had brought against the union for blocking their distribution from 21 to 26 July and the fact that the union's leaders had been summoned to appear before an appeal court in Patan. The union's leaders announced on 12 August that they would "kill anyone daring to distribute the two newspapers."

Journalists were threatened with reprisals if they wrote stories about the union. On 14 August, union members blocked access to the newspapers' editorial offices.

When the Nepalese Press Union held a peaceful demonstration in Kathmandu on 9 August, 49 journalists were beaten and seriously injured by members of the Communist Youth League, which is allied with the Maoists.

In a separate development, Birendra Dahal, the manager of Radio HBC FM, began a hunger strike on 12 August in protest against the occupation of his station by members of a pro-Maoist union, which had begun five days earlier, forcing it off the air. He said he would continue the hunger strike until the leaders of all the parties represented in parliament and their affiliated unions gave a written undertaken to put a stop to the attacks on privately-owned independent news media outlets (see IFEX alert of 14 August 2007).

These threats to press freedom from Maoist activists come just months before a constituent assembly is to be elected in November.

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