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Authorities step up media crackdown as country prepares for elections

(FNJ/IFEX) - The following is an FNJ press release:

Stop Violations of Press Freedom

April 9th, 2008 Kathmandu - The International Media Freedom Monitoring Mission reports that violations of media freedom and media safety continue in some districts across the country in the lead up to the elections. In some districts, journalists are being denied transportation permits; been threatened, beaten 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 Mission remains concerned about journalist safety and press freedom during elections as well as in the coming months.

Journalists working in Kaski district in western Nepal have run into bureaucratic red tape trying to get adequate vehicle passes for covering news of Constituent Assembly (CA) elections. As reported to the International Federation of Journalists, one of the media organizations monitoring press freedom in Nepal, a senior district officer in Kaski refused to provide the required vehicle passes to local journalists.

In Rautahat district, in central Terai, journalists face similar problems, as district officials held back vehicle passes. Prem Chandra Jha, president of the local FNJ chapter, says journalists working in his district may not be able to cover the election at all. In frustration, journalists gathered in front of the local Election Commission Office demanding passes.

FNJ condemned the incident, saying that it is the right of professional journalists to cover and report events without interference. It also said that government and local authorities have to build the appropriate environment for media to cover the complicated constituent assembly proceedings and negotiations in the coming months.

Press freedom violations have continued unabated during the last week. On April 3rd, K. Thapa, a regional union representative in Gorkha district, northwest of Kathmandu, was detained while monitoring press freedom in Borlang village. On April 5th, in the nearby Deurali village, a Nepal Press Union district president, was attacked by Young Communist League members during a clash with activists from the Nepali Congress party.

On April 7th, Sindhu Prabaha, a regional weekly newspaper in Sindupalchowk, 100 km east of the capital, was looted during printing of the election week issue.

Journalists are also being denied access to information on important news from government offices. Media based in the mid-western region could not access accurate information about the 6 Maoists killed on April 8th in Lamahi Bazaar on the main East-West Highway in Dang district, 25 km from the Indian border.

Binod Dhungel, the Nepalese Reporters without Borders representative, who is taking part in the nationwide monitoring programme, reported yesterday that district police, local authorities and district administration offices hid the news of the Lamahi Bazaar clash between Maoist cadres and the Nepali Congress activists and the subsequent shooting of the Maoist youth. The security officials would not respond to inquiries from journalists about the incident, said Dhungel. After news of the clash was finally aired on local FM radio, Hemraj Sharma, district correspondent of Ujjwalo National Network, received phone threats.

The International Media Freedom Monitoring Mission strongly urges all Nepali political parties, regional security and election authorities to respect the free speech and rights of access to information. The Mission also encourages the Nepalese media to remember to maintain high professional standards and to report fairly, balanced and accurately on the election process in the coming months.

The Mission represents international media organizations including Reporters without Borders, the International Press Institute, the International Federation of Journalists, International Media Support, Internews and International Safety Institute.

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