Nepal is unique in many ways: It has the highest mountain range in the world; it is the only country that is officially a Hindu state; it is among the richest nations in terms of biodiversity. But there is one more unique aspect: Journalists throughout the region are being beaten, abducted, arrested and threatened at an alarming rate, so much so that media organizations worldwide are calling for massive reforms in freedom of the press.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that 245 members of the media were arrested last year and another 180 were either injured or intimidated. In addition, 30 media outlets were censored and four were completely destroyed, most by Maoists, a group that adheres to teachings based in communist thinking.
“From May through to December (2006), attacks were reported on a near weekly basis,” the International Press Institute said.
Conditions are not much better this year, even though Nepal has moved up 20 places in the RSF Worldwide Press Freedom Index for 2007. The country ranks 137 out of 169 nations.
“There have been more than 116 incidents of attempts to prevent journalists from doing their jobs between 1 January and 31 July 2007 alone,” concluded the International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression Mission to Nepal. The body, which includes representatives from numerous journalism organizations as well as UNESCO, has been monitoring developments in the country since April 2006. “These incidents include arrests, attacks on media companies, abduction of journalists, threats and harassment, and obstructions to the free flow of information, including disruptions in the production processes.”
The next six months are crucial for the media and the public. Government elections have been postponed twice (June and November), and violence by rebel forces continues in the south. An uncertain future, at least for the time being, does not bode well for the safety and security of journalists throughout the country.
Media in the headlines
• “Police in Nepal detain 2 former communist rebels in journalist’s abduction.” Find more from the International Herald Tribune at www.iht.com.
• “Demonstrations for Nepal reporter.” Find more from BBC News at news.bbc.co.uk.
• “Three journalists kidnapped in less than a week.” Find more from Reporters Without Borders at www.rsf.org.
• “Maoist unionists told to stop using violence against Kantipur press group.” Find more at www.rsf.org.
Issues in the headlines
• “Street children sniff glue to beat hunger pangs.” Find more from the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs at www.irinnews.org.
• “Embattled but still revered: Nepal lines up before King.” Find more from the Hindustan Times at www.hindustantimes.com.
• “International aid groups facing threats, extortion in restive southern Nepal.” Find more from the International Herald Tribune at www.iht.com.
• “Election Delay Means Nepal Must Survive a Winter of Widespread Discontent.” Find more from World Politics Review at www.worldpoliticsreview.com.
• “Nepal’s Biggest Party to Reject Rebel Demands in Parliament.” Find more from Bloomberg at www.bloomberg.com.
• Nearly 29 million people live in a country the size of Arkansas.
• About 80 percent of the population is Hindu and 10 percent Buddhist.
• One-third of those in the country live below the poverty level.
• Nepal is the only official Hindu state in the world.
• The legal system is based on Hindu principles and English common law.
• Parliamentary elections, scheduled for June and then November, have been postponed indefinitely.
• Exports include carpets, clothing and leather goods with India (59 percent), the U.S. (13.9 percent) and Germany (5.9 percent).
• The lowest point in Nepal is Kanchan Kalan (70 meters) and the highest is Mount Everest (8,850 meters).