Freedom of the Press 2005

Caught in the middle of an ongoing war between the government and Maoist insurgents, the Nepalese media continued to face high levels of intimidation and violence from both sides during 2004, particularly in rural areas. The constitution provides for freedom of expression and specifically prohibits censorship. Although both the constitution and the Press and Publications Act allow for restrictions on speech and writing that could undermine the monarchy, national security, public order, or interethnic or intercaste relations, there were no reports of prosecutions under this law during the year. However, antiterrorism legislation that permits authorities to detain individuals suspected of supporting the Maoists for renewable six-month periods was used against journalists, including Maheshwar Pahari, editor of the now-closed weekly Rastriya Swabhiman, who was arrested in January 2004 and remained in custody at year's end.

Journalists who are suspected of pro-Maoist leanings or who produce critical material are regularly arrested and detained by police and security forces, and a number have reportedly been subjected to physical and verbal harassment as well as torture. In February, security forces killed editor Padma Raj Devkota during routine anti-insurgency operations in the remote western region of Jumla, according to the Kathmandu-based Center for Human Rights and Democratic Studies (CEHURDES). During the daily pro-democracy demonstrations that engulfed Kathmandu in April, hundreds of reporters who were attempting to cover unfolding events were arrested and briefly detained, and several were beaten or otherwise injured by police.

Media workers are also under increasing pressure from the Maoists. In August, rebels killed Dakendra Raj Thapa, a journalist with the state-owned Radio Nepal. Other reporters were abducted, threatened with death or amputation, or expelled from rebel-held areas, in addition to having their property seized. In November, the Maoists imposed a reporting ban in five western districts and put into place provisions that required journalists to obtain permission from local Maoist leaders before reporting from the area. Rebels also carried out an attack on a state-owned radio transmission station in May in order to disrupt pro-government broadcasts.

The government owns several of the major English-language and vernacular dailies; these news outlets generally provide pro-government coverage. While a plethora of private publications continue to cover sensitive issues such as the role of the monarchy, human rights violations, the insurgency, and corruption, self-censorship as a result of the intimidation detailed above is a growing concern, particularly in the Maoist-controlled rural areas. The government owns the influential Radio Nepal, whose political coverage is supportive of official policies, and one of several television stations. Private radio stations are required to broadcast Radio Nepal news at least once daily in addition to their own news programming. Access to cable and satellite television, foreign broadcasts and publications, and the Internet is unrestricted. However, under government instructions, privately run Internet service providers have blocked access to the Maoists' Web site since February 2004.

2005 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score

(0 = best, 100 = worst)
(0 = best, 40 = worst)
(0 = best, 30 = worst)