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International mission and local members fight back in face of media crackdown surrounding elections in Nepal

As Nepal headed into constituent assembly elections on 10 April, press freedom violations continued unabated across the country, despite a government promise earlier this year to "take seriously" the safety of media workers. In some districts, journalists were denied transportation permits. Others were threatened and assaulted, as well as denied access to information from local government authorities.

In coordination with monitoring units of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Nepal, a collaboration of 12 organisations which includes nine IFEX members, has been back in Nepal to report on these incidents and others where journalist safety and press freedom are being compromised.

From 4 to 15 April, the mission, which includes representatives of the IFJ, the International News Safety Institute, the International Press Institute, Internews, the Open Society Institute and International Media Support, is providing support to the local partners during the crucial transition period - the elected assembly is to decide the fate of the monarchy and write a new constitution for the country.

The mission also helped FNJ deploy a media violations monitoring team in Nepal. Nearly 100 monitors were spread throughout the regions, helping to negotiate in conflicts regarding media rights, safety, transportation difficulties and access to information.

FNJ also established an emergency telephone line for its more than 8,000 members to facilitate rapid reactions to the cases of intimidation, attacks and abductions of its members. In less than two years, from April 2006 to December 2007, FNJ recorded 652 press freedom violations. So far in 2008, more than 30 alerts on Nepal have been issued on the IFEX Action Alert Network.

Meanwhile, the Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES) was also actively monitoring the polls to ensure a free and fair election. Khadga Sen Oli of CEHURDES said, "We are witnessing the process of conflict transformation and peace building. Free expression is an essential component of a successful transition to democracy."

CEHURDES has been working on a project on mobilising the media in mid- and far-western Nepal to help promote people's participation in drafting a new constitution. "People living in these regions have had to confront tremendous problems and never received proper attention from the successive governments in the past," said Sen Oli.

Following the elections, CEHURDES will be campaigning to guarantee peoples' fundamental rights, including upgrading national practices on human rights to be consistent with international standards.

Links:

International Mission statement: http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/89940/

FNJ: http://www.fnjnepal.org/

CEHURDES: http://www.cehurdes.org.np/

The International Mission visited Nepal this January and met with government ministers, political party leaders, community leaders, security forces, the election commission and a broad cross-section of the media during its pre-election visit. Read recommendations in the full mission report, now available by contacting Thomas Hughes of IMS at: [email protected]


By Kristina Stockwood and Natasha Grzincic, IFEX Clearing House

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