Thursday, March 31, 2005

Nepal journalists urge free press

Via BBC NEWS online, March 29, 2005:

Hundreds of journalists in Nepal have held demonstrations across the country demanding the restoration of press freedom in the country.

King Gyanendra imposed sweeping curbs on the media as part of emergency rule introduced last month.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) says that about half of Nepal's newspapers had ceased to publish since the king seized power.

A number of journalists have also been detained on charges of showing dissent.

About 300 journalists joined by human rights activists participated in a protest rally in the capital, Kathmandu.

"We are going to fight until all press freedoms are restored in the country," Taranath Dahal, president of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) told the Associated Press.

He said the Nepalese journalists were facing one of the worst crises in the country's press history.

Security situation

The FNJ says 10 journalists are in police custody for expressing opposition to the royal takeover.

The authorities say that the restrictions on media are aimed at helping efforts to fight the Maoist rebels and restore peace.

They have insisted that the curbs would be lifted as soon as the security situation improves.

The IFJ says that at least 600 journalists have lost their jobs since the royal takeover and a further 1,000 could be out of work if press censorship remains in place.

So far King Gyanendra has ignored repeated calls from the international community to restore democracy.


Monday, March 28, 2005

120 Nabbed for Defying Nepal Protest Ban

Via The Guardian Monday March 28, 2005, By BINAJ GURUBACHARYA Associated Press Writer:

KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) - Police arrested about 120 anti-government activists nationwide Monday for defying a ban on protests to show their anger at last month's seizure of power by the king.

Dozens of protesters marched outside the capital's Central Secretariat, which houses the prime minister's office as well as several other ministries and government offices.

``Down with autocracy. We want democracy,'' the demonstrators chanted as they threw fliers in the streets urging people to join their movement.

They arrived in a public bus and quickly pulled out party flags and chanted anti-government slogans, surprising police and blocking traffic for a few minutes before being loaded into police vans and taken away.

Nearly 50 people were arrested in front of the government offices in Katmandu and another 72 people were detained in demonstrations in nine other cities in what Nepal's banned political parties described as a nationwide protest.

Officials said the protesters in Katmandu were detained at the police station and charged with violating government orders.

It was the first time since King Gyanendra's Feb. 1 takeover and suspension of civil liberties that protesters have been able to demonstrate so close to the main government offices.

In taking absolute power and declaring a state of emergency, the king said he needed to defeat an escalating anti-monarchy communist insurgency and root out endemic corruption among politicians.

Since the king's power grab, many politicians have been taken into custody or driven underground. The new monarchist government has released some opposition figures in recent weeks. Sporadic rallies to demand the return of democracy have failed to attract large numbers and have been quickly broken up by police.

Still, Nepal's main political parties vowed to hold nationwide protests on April 8 to mark the 15th anniversary of mass pro-democracy demonstrations that ended autocratic rule by Nepal's kings.

``We are working on strategies to be bring out the mass protest next week. It will be joint rallies organized by the five major political parties,'' said Kashinath Adhikari of the Communist Party of Nepal, the second-largest party.

However, Adhikari acknowledged the low turnout in previous protests, citing a distrust of politicians who are widely regarded as inefficient and corrupt.

Jagdish Narsingh, a youth leader with the main Nepali Congress party, said the protests haven't gained momentum because their top leaders are either in detention, exile or hiding.

Nepal's government also has been under pressure from the international community to lift the state of emergency and restore civil liberties.

Britain and India have suspended military aid, and the United States has said it is considering stopping aid that Nepal needs to fight the insurgents.

However, a Pakistani official hinted on Monday that his nation could offer military assistance to Nepal.

Pakistan's junior minister for economic affairs, Hina Rabbani Khar, said Pakistan has pledged $5 million in economic assistance to Nepal.

``The whole thing is for industrial procurement but it can possibly cover arms and ammunition,'' Khar told reporters on arrival in Katmandu. ``It is up to Nepalese government to decide.''

The rebels, who say they're inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, have been fighting since 1996 to dislodge the monarchy and establish communist rule. The conflict has killed more than 10,500 people, many of them civilians.,1280,-4896905,00.html

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Reuters covers Nepali blogs: Nepali reporters take democracy fight to cyberspace

Reuters' Terry Friel has an excellent article today about blogs out of Nepal, including United We Blog! and Radio Free Nepal.

[via Radio Free Nepal]
- - -

Nepali reporters take democracy fight to cyberspace

Here is a copy of above Reuters report, March 23, 2005, by Terry Friel:

NEW DELHI (Reuters) - Journalists in Nepal, one of the world's poorest and most backward nations, are going hi-tech to sidestep tight censorship imposed after last month's royal coup.

Outspoken Web logs, or blogs, are springing up and being widely quoted and linked to in the "blogosphere" -- the mushrooming cyberworld rapidly establishing a place for itself as an alternative source of news and information.

"I feel that our very own survival, intellectually and mentally, depends on freedom," says Dinesh Wagle, a newspaper journalist who runs United We Blog! (

"I don't want to live like a dead soul. So these days I am blogging for a peaceful and democratic Nepal," he told Reuters in an email interview.

King Gyanendra seized power on Feb. 1, arresting government and political leaders, rights activists and journalists.

He also banned media criticism of his move, which he said was aimed at ending a nine-year Maoist revolt that has killed 11,000 people and shattered the tourism and aid-dependent economy.

But United We Blog! and another popular blog, the anonymous Radio Free Nepal (, publish interviews with arrested political leaders and news about anti-king protests that the mainstream media cannot.

"I am blogging the truth as I see and as I think," says the print journalist running Radio Free Nepal.

"I am telling my audience there are pro-monarch rallies and the true story behind them (compulsory participation) ... and also that there is not much participation in anti-monarch rallies, along with my feelings that there should be democracy and the king should step down," he told Reuters by email.


Wagle, who coordinates the art and style section for Kantipur, the leading Nepali language daily, is a former information technology reporter.

He has his own Web site ( and along with several friends and colleagues has been blogging since 2003. But United We Blog! turned political after Gyanendra seized power.

"In the beginning, the UWB team was quite anxious about blogging political matter. But I was determined to blog politics and everyone was convinced."

Hits have rocketed: from fewer than 13,000 in January to 65,000 in February and more than 80,000 in the first three weeks of March.

Nepal is one of the world's poorest 10 countries and few people have computers. Fewer still know about blogs.

Instead, United We Blog! and Radio Free Nepal are aimed at highlighting the country's plights to the outside world.

The postings have been picked up, linked to and referred to by scores of other blogs around the world, including the Online Journalism Review ( published by the University of Southern California's Annenberg School for Communication.

"Through blogs, I want the world to know Nepal and talk about it," says the Radio Free Nepal blogger. "That way, there will be more pressure on the king to restore democracy -- that's what I hope to gain -- democracy."

Worried about being arrested, the Radio Free Nepal blogger emails his posts to a friend overseas, who then puts them on the blog. Wagle and his partners, on the other hand, operate openly.

"I am not blogging against anyone, but for peace, democracy and freedom," he says. "Even the king has vowed to restore democracy ... within three years. I am just helping him."

When Gyanendra took power, he shut down Internet service providers and all phone lines for a week. But the communications blackout played havoc with the economy -- airlines and other business couldn't operate properly, credit cards could not be used and some ATMs would not work -- and lines were restored.

However, some Internet sites remain blocked, including Maoist sites and news sites and

Wagle is not too worried about his blog.

"Our government is relatively new to the Internet and they don't have high-tech surveillance capability like in China. I don't think, but I'm not sure, they are even reading us."

Friday, March 18, 2005

Nepal 'near humanitarian abyss'

Maoists want to overthrow the Hindu monarchy, says the BBC in a report dated 18 March, 2005. Here is a copy:

"Insecurity, armed activity and Maoist blockades are pushing Nepal towards the abyss of a humanitarian crisis" says UN and donors in a statement.

Nepal is on the brink of a humanitarian crisis, the United Nations and international agencies have warned.

Conflict between security forces and Maoist guerrillas has left civilians and refugees exposed and often cut off from aid supplies and medical help.

In a statement, the UN, European Union and nine Western aid agencies urge both sides to respect human rights.

Nepal's King Gyanendra seized absolute power and curbed freedoms in February, prompting rebels to intensify attacks.

"The United Nations and bilateral donor agencies in Nepal urge all parties to ensure that movement of supplies and vehicles intended to alleviate the suffering of civilian populations are not restricted," the statement says.

Fatal childbirth

It goes on to list in stark terms the difficulties facing Nepalese civilians caught up in the ongoing conflict.

According to the organisations, Nepalese are often denied access to humanitarian and medical supplies because of security roadblocks set up by Maoists.

Children are among the worst affected, it says, with many suffering from a lack of vitamins and essential dugs.

Credible reports have emerged in recent weeks that some women died in childbirth because they were unable to reach medical help, the statement adds.

There is also concern for the fate of 100,000 Bhutanese refugees in eastern Nepal, who are dependent on relief but find the flow of aid regularly blocked.

"Insecurity, armed activity and Maoist blockades are pushing Nepal towards the abyss of a humanitarian crisis," the groups conclude.

King criticised

The BBC's Charles Haviland in Kathmandu says the statement is brief, almost terse, and reminds both the security forces and Maoist guerrillas that they should protect civilians and ensure free passage of relief.

But this is a conflict in which civilians are repeatedly victimised and the Geneva Conventions commonly violated, our correspondent adds.

Separately, a report by the International Committee of Jurists, a human rights group, is heavily critical of King Gynanendra's declaration of a state of emergency.

Hundreds of political activists, journalists, students, human rights defenders and lawyers have been arrested since the king took power in February.

Commenting after returning from a visit to Nepal, ICJ Secretary General Nicholas Howen said: "It was clear during our visit that human rights defenders face a suffocating atmosphere of intimidation and control, where criticism is not tolerated.

"We heard pleas from Nepalis themselves for the international community to demand a return to the rule of law and respect for human rights."

Nearly 11,000 people have been killed in the 10 years since the Maoists began their fight to replace the country's constitutional monarchy.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Radio Free Nepal

Radio Free Nepal blog says King Gyandendra of Nepal has issued a ban on independent news broadcasts and has threatened to punish newspapers for reports that run counter to the official monarchist line. Given that any person in Nepal publishing reports critical of "the spirit of the royal proclamation" is subject to punishment and/or imprisonment, contributors to the blog Radio Free Nepal will publish their reports from Nepal anonymously.

Nepal: Media short-sightedness is truly staggering

9 March Gareth Evans, president of Belgian-based thinktank International Crisis Group, writes the following for AlertNet.

To find many of the world's "forgotten" humanitarian emergencies, one only need look at some of the world's forgotten conflicts. In some cases, it is truly staggering what the mainstream media are missing.

As an organisation working to prevent and reduce deadly conflict worldwide, the International Crisis Group spends a good deal of effort trying to bring international attention to the conflicts that cause so many avoidable humanitarian emergencies.

For some conflicts this is easier than for others, especially over the last two or three years.

One television news producer we met in the U.S. summed the situation since spring 2003 this way: "Look, we've got three foreign news priorities these days: Iraq, Iraq and Iraq".

And Iraq is not simply an American obsession: we've heard a similar refrain from news producers and newspaper editors again and again throughout Europe and elsewhere.

Of course, few would say Iraq doesn't deserve the top foreign news spot; it has been the main international news story not only because of its daily violence but also because of post-Saddam Iraq's long-term implications for the rest of the region.

Iraq is not the only story, however, as the average mass media consumer could almost be forgiven for thinking over the past two years. The world's obsession with Iraq has pushed to the margins many other scenes of mass violence.


One good example is Nepal, home of the deadliest conflict in Asia, with some 10,000 killed over the past few years. Before the coup on 1 February 2005, how often did television crews bother to cover the expanding Maoist insurgency there?

How many articles did the Western press carry about the widespread human rights abuses and disappearances at the hands of the Royal Nepalese Army?

Nepal has simply been off the radar screen of the world media, and even now, the coup story itself seems to have appeared only as a rapidly fading blip.

Another under-reported conflict is in Uganda, where the rebel Lord's Resistance Army -- half guerrilla movement, half cult -- has fought government forces and made repeated brutal raids against civilians, displacing 1.6 million people and forcing thousands of abducted children to serve as their rank-and-file soldiers.

Uganda is now set to be the subject of the International Criminal Court's first full investigation into crimes against humanity.

And the media coverage of this ongoing tragedy internationally? Almost nothing.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is another long-standing conflict in Central Africa that gets very little international attention apart perhaps from a single story in the quality broadsheets when Rwanda threatens to invade its massive neighbour.

This is a country, remember, where some three million people died as a result of the 1998-2000 war -- mostly due to the resulting hunger and disease -- and where the failure to demobilise former combatants and the failure to stick to the calendar of a transitional political process threaten the country with a return to all-out war.


In fact, for the eastern part of the country, the war is still really going on, and the human cost of violence is reliably reported at 1000 deaths a day (in combatant deaths and indirect "excess" deaths due to the war).

Still, the world media have by and large shown no interest in the Congo whatsoever.

And then there are the potential conflicts and humanitarian crises in Central Asia and the frozen conflicts in the Caucasus that could always hot up at any time.

The lack of international attention in such places only allows the precursors of mass violence to continue festering.

When things explode, foreign correspondents will no doubt be parachuted in to ask why no one saw this coming, when the truth is, quite a number of us in the international community have long been calling for more attention and more concerted effort to defuse the coming conflict.

The media had simply chosen to point their cameras elsewhere.

No one should get the impression this is only a problem of the Western media; it is universal.

The Arabic-language media, for example, have consistently ignored or under-reported the underlying causes of the conflict in Darfur, Sudan, and the massive humanitarian catastrophe that has resulted.


With very few exceptions, the national television stations and even the freer international newspapers simply toe the Sudanese government's line, not mentioning at all Khartoum's strong backing of the Janjaweed militias who have destroyed hundreds of villages, killed tens of thousands of people, and driven millions more from their homes.

But the case of Darfur also makes clear the limits of media attention alone. In the Western world, the situation in Darfur is now relatively well-known: compared to one year ago, when news reports were only just a few threads, we now see the full fabric of Darfur's horrors on television and in print almost daily.

This hard-won international attention has been essential for getting additional humanitarian relief into Darfur's IDP camps and the refugee camps in neighbouring Chad, but it has done nothing to stop the ongoing killing or return people to their homes.

Three feeble U.N. Security Council resolutions over the past year applied no serious pressure on the government of Sudan to stop its support of those committing the most brutal atrocities.

There are clearly conflicts that deserve more international media than they get, but we also have to be realistic: sometimes, media attention is not enough.

Nepal "the deadliest conflict in Asia, with some 10,000 killed over the past few years"

9 March, 2005 London (Reuters) by Ruth Gidley

Brutal conflicts in Congo, Uganda and Sudan are the world's three biggest "forgotten emergencies", each dwarfing the toll of the Asian tsunami but attracting scant media interest, a new Reuters AlertNet poll of experts shows.

War in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country two-thirds the size of Western Europe, has claimed at least 10 times as many lives as the December tsunami yet remains almost unheard of outside of Africa, key players in the aid world said.

"It's the worst humanitarian tragedy since the Holocaust," John O'Shea, chief executive of Irish relief agency GOAL, told AlertNet. "The greatest example on the planet of man's inhumanity to man."

AlertNet asked 102 humanitarian professionals, media personalities, academics and policymakers which "forgotten" crises they would urge the media to focus on in 2005.

Answers came back from across the spectrum, from royal connections, acting stars and a Nobel prize winner, as well as various U.N. agencies and dozens of NGOs.

Many experts accused the Western media of routinely ignoring emergencies in countries of low geopolitical importance for big powers despite the enormous scale of suffering.

"One television news producer we met in the U.S. summed up the situation since spring 2003 this way: 'Look, we've got three foreign news priorities these days: Iraq, Iraq, Iraq,'" said Gareth Evans, president of Belgian think tank Crisis Group.

Almost half of those polled -- including U.N. relief coordinator Jan Egeland and U.S. leftwing intellectual Noam Chomsky -- nominated Congo, citing the brutality of an ugly, tangled war that has killed 3.8 million people since 1998, according to the International Rescue Committee.


"It’s Africa’s First World War," said British journalist Jon Snow, news anchorman for Channel 4 television.

The details of northern Uganda’s hidden war - the silver prize-winner in the AlertNet ranking - are even more sensational.

Ninety-five percent of the population in the conflict zone have been uprooted, and some 25,000 children have been abducted to fight as soldiers and sex slaves.

Rural children who live in the rural danger zone are called "night commuters" because they take refuge at night in the relative safety of cities to escape abduction by the cult-like Lord’s Resistance Army, which has waged a bloody 18-year insurgency. Eighty percent of its troops are estimated to be children.

"Like many people, I didn't have any idea of the scale of this conflict," said British Hollywood star Helen Mirren, who travelled to Uganda with relief agency Oxfam. "Nearly two million people have been made homeless and hundreds of thousands more have been killed."

The experts' third most neglected emergency was Sudan, where four million people have yet to go home after Africa's longest-running civil war in the south and atrocities in the western Darfur region have raised the spectre of genocide.

"Darfur has slipped from the front pages, but the situation there is again going from terrible to being absolutely horrendous," U.N. relief coordinator Jan Egeland said.

Africa featured heavily in the top 10, taking half the top spots, but news coverage outside the region is minimal.

"Africa experiences the devastating effect of two tsunamis every month", said Amy Slorach, appeal coordinator for British nongovernmental relief agency Tearfund.


West Africa’s wars encompass Ivory Coast, Liberia and Sierra Leone, briefly infamous for the large numbers of civilian amputees who lost their arms and legs to crazed soldiers’ machetes.

AlertNet left it up to respondents how to define emergencies, and quite a few chose health disasters, with HIV/AIDS voted number four in the poll.

The Diana, Princess of Wales Memorial Fund voted for women survivors of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, who are now dying as a consequence of being raped by HIV-positive attackers.

"The genocide happened 10 years ago, but its legacy continues to destroy lives today," said Lucinda MacPherson, the Fund’s senior press and communications officer.

Other infectious diseases – tuberculosis and malaria in particular – made number 10 in the poll. Malaria kills an African child every 30 seconds, while tuberculosis kills about 2 million a year worldwide.

Two Latin American crises ranked high in the survey. Colombia – where nearly 3 million people have fled their homes because of violence that has been raging since 1948 -- was voted into sixth place

Haiti, the poorest country in the Americas, was number nine. The Caribbean nation is wracked with an ongoing political crisis, and U.N. troops have failed to quell the violence.

Conflict in the breakaway Russian republic of Chechnya, number seven in the AlertNet survey, has been simmering since the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians and at least 13,000 Russian troops.


Nepal’s insurgency – which has toppled into a crisis since the king sacked the government in early February – was voted number eight on the list.

Crisis Group’s Evans called it "the deadliest conflict in Asia, with some 10,000 killed over the past few years".

Food shortages in Africa – especially in Eritrea and Zimbabwe – featured in the survey responses, but narrowly missed the top 10.

"More people die every year of causes related to hunger and malnutrition than the total number who die of AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined," said James Morris, chief executive of the U.N. World Food Programme.

"Of the 10 million people who die each year from hunger and malnutrition, just 8 percent die in the kind of emergencies we hear about on the evening news."

Annabel Brown of Community Aid Abroad – the Australian Oxfam -- told AlertNet: "Natural disasters capture the attention of the world, but it is the manmade crisis situations -- resulting in part from the disparities and injustices in the world – that rich countries should continue to be aware of and forced to take some responsibility for."

Noam Chomsky chose Congo and Colombia, Haiti and the Israel-Palestine conflict, but also nominated a series of low-profile emergencies. The MIT professor chose to highlight West Papua, natural disasters and child labour in Nicaragua, displacement of Turkish Kurds, and horrifying conditions in rural India and China.

The Asian Development Bank’s vice president, Geert van der Linden, voted for human trafficking.

Other organisations – such as Médecins sans Frontieres and the United Nations -- have tried to bring global attention to neglected emergencies.

Northern Uganda took the number one slot in the MSF Top 10 Most Underreported Stories of 2004

Uganda also tops the United Nations’ "10 stories the world should hear more about".

"The attention span of most media on most stories is way too short," said Jody Williams, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize laureate in 1997 for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

"The media should do a much better job educating itself – and then the public – on the root causes of 'emergencies'," she said.