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Freedom Forum condemns spate of attacks on the press

(Freedom Forum/IFEX) - 31 May 2011 - Freedom Forum has received information about an incident involving the press which occurred in Thamel, Khatmandu, on 29 May 2011, while reporters were covering a story on the abduction of an American national from a Thamel hotel.

Hridaya Thapa, Deputy Superintendent of Police at the Criminal Investigation Division in the capital, roughed up a number of journalists, including Himalayan Television reporter Madhusudan Rayamajhi, camera operator Sushil Baskota and Bijay Regmi, a reporter for Avenues Television, according to Regmi. The reporter added that the police official seized a camera, tried to delete some of the images, and barred the journalists from entering the hotel saying, "Why do journalists need to get the news before the police investigation?"

Freedom Forum condemns the incident as the State body tasked with protecting the press was itself involved in the action against the journalists.

The organisation also condemns the fact that photojournalists were barred from entering a meeting between the top leaders of main political parties in the Prime Ministerial residence, Baluwatar, on 27 May.

Another anti-press incident occurred at Kotihawa, Rupandehi, on 20 May. Supporters of the Brahmin Society who had called for a "banda" (general strike) in Dhaulagiri, Lumbini and Gandaki zones, set fire to copies of the "Nagarik" and Republica" newspapers, and demanded that the national dailies issue reports in favour of the banda. According to driver Durga Poudel, the banda organizers intercepted the vehicle used to distribute the papers and burnt 200 copies.

In a separate incident, on 16 May, Meghanath Ghimire, District Chairman of the YCL (Young Communist League), a sister organization of the UCPN-Maoist in Rasuwa, set fire to copies of the "Rasuwa Khabar Patrika" weekly after being angered by reports contained in the paper.

The weekly's publisher, Hemnath Khatiwada, said Ghimire claimed that the news reported by the paper was false, something the publisher refuted.

Finally, on 1 June, individuals who had organised a "banda" along the Kalyanpur section of the East-West Highway in Saptari, southeastern Nepal, smashed the windshield of a vehicle belonging to "Republica" and "Nagarik" for no apparent reason. The driver was en route to Biratnagar from Janakpur after delivering the papers.

Freedom Forum condemns the incidents and strongly urges the state to bring the perpetrators to justice so as to uphold respect for a free press and protect the people's right to information. Freedom Forum also urges Maoist party officials to teach its members to respect the media.

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