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NEPAL: Kantipur FM station was attacked by armed policemen to silence free media

October 27, 2005

URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION URGENT ACTION

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

Urgent Appeal

27 October 2005
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UA-188-2005: NEPAL: Kantipur FM station was attacked by armed policemen to silence free media

NEPAL: Freedom of media; Censorship; Rule of law
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Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information from the Informal Sector Service Sector (INSEC), a local human rights organization in Nepal, regarding an attack on Kantipur F.M. Station by armed policemen on 21 October 2005.

According to the information we have received, around 40 armed policemen forcibly entered into the Kantipur F.M. Station office at about 11:00pm on October 21 and cut all the office telephone lines and took away 8 sets of equipments used for up-linking the Kantipur F.M.'s Kathmandu Station with the Bhedetar Station in Dhankuta District. Two officials of the Ministry of Information and Communications (MIC) were present during the attack. We have also learned that prior to the attack, those two officials from the MIC attempted to disconnect the satellite link between Kathmandu and Bhedetar stations, producing a letter issued by the Ministry on October 19, which instructed that "all the F.M. stations are requested not to broadcast 'news programme' according to the newly issued government ordinance".

The AHRC is gravely concerned by this serious incident. This is yet another attempt by the Government of Nepal to silent the independent media.  On October 9, the Government has already issued a draconian "press ordinance", which resulted in the amendment of 6 laws relating to the media, namely Radio Act 2014 BS, National News Agency Act 2019 BS, Press and Publication Act 2048 BS, Press Council Act 2048 BS and National Broadcasting Act 2049 BS, in the way of enhancing censorship and curbing media.

Since the King claimed absolute power on February 1, state law enforcement agents have carried out numerous human rights abuses such as arbitrary arrest and detention of large numbers of democracy, human rights activists, journalists and students. However, only a fraction of the news on these violations finds its way outside the country due to the Government's censorship.

The AHRC calls for your strong intervention into this matter. Please send a letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights office in Nepal urging that a prompt and independent investigation is conducted into this case. Please also request them to pressurize the Government of Nepal to retract the "press ordinance" without delay and ensure the freedom of media.

Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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DETAILED INFORMATION:

Victims: Kantipur F.M. staff and audience of Eastern Nepal
Alleged perpetrators: About 40 armed policemen in both civilian clothes and uniform 
Date of incident: At about 11:00pm on 21 October, 2005
Place of the incident: Kantipur F.M. station in Pulchowk, Lalitpur District, Nepal
           
Case details:

At around 4:00pm on 21 October 2005, three persons claiming themselves to be officials from the Ministry of Information and Communications entered the Kantipur F.M. station office. They were identified as the Section Officer Rajendra Kumar Paudel and two electronic engineers, Gaurab Giri and Khem Raj Bhandari. They asked the Kantipur F.M. administration team to disconnect their satellite link with Bhedetar station in Dhankuta District, saying that it was against the newly issued 'press ordinance' by the government. The staff refused to do so asking for the officially written legal order from the government. They further argued that the Kantipur F.M. station had legal documents authorized by the same Ministry of Information and Communications, which allowed the linking between both the regions of Kathmandu and Dhankuta. The officials then gave two letters signed by Shyam Chalise, officer at the Ministry of Information and Communications, one dated October 19 and the other dated October 21. The letter dated October 19 mentioned that "all the F.M. stations are requested not to broadcast 'news programme' according to the newly issued government ordinance". However, none of these letters had authorization to disconnect the link between the stations in Kathmandu and Dhankuta.

Meanwhile, the officials very carefully observed all the equipments for linking to the Bhedetar station in Dhankuta. They also called some security personnel and encircled the Kantipur F.M. station office. During this time, a lot of media professionals, political leaders and human rights activists, including the representative from OHCHR were inside the station. The officials left the office at around 7:00pm, after signing a letter prepared by the administration chief of Kantipur F.M., which confirmed that the government officials had visited the F.M. station.
 
At approximately 10:50pm of the same day when most of the Kanipur F.M. staff had left the office, around 40 armed-policemen came in four vans and forcibly entered into the station building and took in control of the staff on night duty. Some policemen were in plain clothes while others were in uniforms. According to one staff member who had witnessed the attack, two officials who had come in during the daytime visit were with the armed policemen. The policemen then proceeded to cut all the office telephone lines and dismantle all the equipment that was used for uplinking the Kathmandu station with the Dhankuta station. It only took 10-15 minutes as the two engineers present during the day visit had already taken account of the equipment earlier. Afterwards, they took away 4 sets of PSK digital satellite modems (CM 601), 2 sets of digital audio codec/multiplexer (DAC 700) and 2 sets of audio broadcast receiver (ABR 202).

Only a hurriedly hand-written letter, which was ambiguously signed by the section officer, was left at the station while the police took away the equipment. However, no receipt was made. The letter was referring to the controversial clause of the National Broadcasting Act, 2049 BS that was added by the draconian ordinance brought on 9 October 2005. To enhance censorship and curb media, the Ordinance has amended 6 laws relating to the media, namely Radio Act 2014 BS, National News Agency Act 2019 BS, Press and Publication Act 2048 BS, Press Council Act 2048 BS and National Broadcasting Act 2049 BS.

It is reported that prior to the attack on the same day, many media professionals had held a rally protesting against this new 'press ordinance', criticizing it as unconstitutional and  a form of dictatorial law. It looks very obvious that the Government of Nepal sent a clear message about its stand regarding this matter by raiding the Kantipur F.M. station on the same evening.

ADDITIONAL COMMENTS:

Such an attack on the Kantipur F.M. Station comes as no surprise considering the constant attempts by the Government to restrict the freedom of media. The AHRC has already warned that free media and freedom of expression are in danger in Nepal as the Government of Nepal instructs guidelines for stronger censorship and has pressurized members of the media to falsify news in favour of the government. (See further: AS-13-2005 and AS-19-2005).  Also the order dated February 3 from the Ministry of Information and Communication enforced that all media reports opposing the takeover by the king have been banned. The AHRC had further reported about the threats to the media community (Refer to: UG-01-2005 and FA-05-2005)

This case is yet another unfortunate indication of the worsening human rights situation in Nepal. Since the king claimed absolute power in February 1, a lot of human rights violations such as arbitrary arrests and the detention of large numbers of democrats, human rights activists, journalists and students have been conducted by the state law enforcement agents. If there is no media output that can talk openly about these matters, then the voices of ordinary people, who suffer the worst abuses at the hands of the authorities, will never be heard. Already there are many independent media in Nepal who have been silenced and therefore only a small amount of the human rights violations can be communicated outside.

SUGGESTED ACTION:
Please send a letter to Ian Martin, Chief of Mission, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights - Nepal Office, urging him to intervene into this matter and ensure freedom of media in Nepal.
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Sample letter:

Dear Mr Martin,

Re:  NEPAL: Kantipur F.M. station was attacked by the security personnel to silent free media  

Victims: Kantipur FM staff and audience of Eastern Nepal
Alleged perpetrators: About 40 armed policemen in both civilian clothes and uniform 
Date of incident: At about 11:00pm on 21 October, 2005
Place of the incident: Kantipur F.M. station in Pulchowk, Lalitpur District, Nepal

I am writing to bring to your attention the attack on the Kantipur F.M. station by the armed policemen which took place on the night of 21 October 2005.

According to the information we have received, around 40 armed policemen came in four vans and forcibly entered into the Kantipur F.M. station building at about 11:00pm on October 21 and cut all the office telephone lines and took away 8 sets of equipments used for uplinking between the Kantipur F.M. station in Katmandu, and the Bhedetar station in Dhankuta. Two officials of the Ministry of Information and Communications allegedly accompanied the policemen during the raid. It is very interesting to notice that the same Ministry officials visited the Station office prior to the attack and presented a letter issued by the Ministry on October 19, which instructed that "all the F.M. stations are requested not to broadcast 'news programme' according to the newly issued government ordinance". This is an example of yet another attempt by the Government to silence the independent media.

I am also concerned about the recent move taken by the Government to restrict the freedom of media. According to the information I have received, the Government issued a "press ordinance" on October 9 which amended 6 laws relating to the media, namely Radio Act 2014 BS, National News Agency Act 2019 BS, Press and Publication Act 2048 BS, Press Council Act 2048 BS and National Broadcasting Act 2049 BS, in order to enhance their censorship power and curb media.

The government's attack on the Kantipur F.M. Station is in violation of Article 18 and 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Nepal is a state party to. Especially, Article 19(1), which clearly mentions, "Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without interference." I fear that the human rights violations in Nepal will be worsened if there is no more freedom of media expression and the voices of ordinary people, who suffer the worst abuses at the hands of the authorities, will never be heard. Already many independent media in Nepal have been silenced and only a small amount of the human rights violations have reached outside of Nepal.

I therefore ask you to take urgent intervention into this matter. I request you to conduct a prompt and independent investigation into this case and to make such a report public. I also request you to urge His Majesty King Gyanendra and the Government of Nepal to retract the "press ordinance" as soon as possible.

Yours truly,


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PLEASE SEND A LETTER TO:

Mr. Ian Martin
Chief of Mission
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights- Nepal Office
UN House, Pulchowk
Kathmandu
NEPAL
Tel: (977) 1 5524 366 or 5523 200
Fax: (977) 1 5523 991 or 5523 986
Email: hrinfounit@undp.org

PLEASE SEND COPIES TO:

1. His Majesty King Gyanendra
Narayanhity Royal Palace
Durbar Marg
Kathmandu
NEPAL
Tel: 977 14 413577/227577
Fax: 977 14 227395/ 411955

2. General B.A. Kumar Sharma
Royal Nepal Army Human Rights Cell
Human Rights Cell
Singha Durbar
Kathmandu
NEPAL
Telefax: + 977 14 245 020/226 292

3. Mr. Pkojha
Attorney General
Office of the Attorney General
Ramshahpath, Kathmandu
NEPAL
Tel: +977 14 262548 (direct line)/262394 (through Personal Assistant)
Fax: +977 14 262582
Email: fpattorney@most.gov.np

4. Mr. Nain Bahadur Khatri
Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission
Pulchowck, Lalitpur
NEPAL
Tel: +977 1 5 547 974 or 525 659 or 547 975
Fax: +9771 5 547 973
Email: nhrc@ntc.net.np

5. Mr. Ambeyi Ligabo
Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression
c/o Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights
United Nations Office at Geneva
8-14 Avenue de la Paix
1211 Geneva 10
Switzerland
Tel: +41 22 917 9177
Fax: +41 22 917 9003 (general)
Email: jderiviero@ohchr.org or urgent-action@ohchr.org


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
Document Type :
Urgent Appeal Case
Document ID :
UA-188-2005
Countries :
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Extended Introduction: Urgent Appeals, theory and practice

A need for dialogue

Many people across Asia are frustrated by the widespread lack of respect for human rights in their countries.  Some may be unhappy about the limitations on the freedom of expression or restrictions on privacy, while some are affected by police brutality and military killings.  Many others are frustrated with the absence of rights on labour issues, the environment, gender and the like. 

Yet the expression of this frustration tends to stay firmly in the private sphere.  People complain among friends and family and within their social circles, but often on a low profile basis. This kind of public discourse is not usually an effective measure of the situation in a country because it is so hard to monitor. 

Though the media may cover the issues in a broad manner they rarely broadcast the private fears and anxieties of the average person.  And along with censorship – a common blight in Asia – there is also often a conscious attempt in the media to reflect a positive or at least sober mood at home, where expressions of domestic malcontent are discouraged as unfashionably unpatriotic. Talking about issues like torture is rarely encouraged in the public realm.

There may also be unwritten, possibly unconscious social taboos that stop the public reflection of private grievances.  Where authoritarian control is tight, sophisticated strategies are put into play by equally sophisticated media practices to keep complaints out of the public space, sometimes very subtly.  In other places an inner consensus is influenced by the privileged section of a society, which can control social expression of those less fortunate.  Moral and ethical qualms can also be an obstacle.

In this way, causes for complaint go unaddressed, un-discussed and unresolved and oppression in its many forms, self perpetuates.  For any action to arise out of private frustration, people need ways to get these issues into the public sphere.

Changing society

In the past bridging this gap was a formidable task; it relied on channels of public expression that required money and were therefore controlled by investors.  Printing presses were expensive, which blocked the gate to expression to anyone without money.  Except in times of revolution the media in Asia has tended to serve the well-off and sideline or misrepresent the poor.

Still, thanks to the IT revolution it is now possible to communicate with large audiences at little cost.  In this situation there is a real avenue for taking issues from private to public, regardless of the class or caste of the individual.

Practical action

The AHRC Urgent Appeals system was created to give a voice to those affected by human rights violations, and by doing so, to create a network of support and open avenues for action.  If X’s freedom of expression is denied, if Y is tortured by someone in power or if Z finds his or her labour rights abused, the incident can be swiftly and effectively broadcast and dealt with. The resulting solidarity can lead to action, resolution and change. And as more people understand their rights and follow suit, as the human rights consciousness grows, change happens faster. The Internet has become one of the human rights community’s most powerful tools.   

At the core of the Urgent Appeals Program is the recording of human rights violations at a grass roots level with objectivity, sympathy and competence. Our information is firstly gathered on the ground, close to the victim of the violation, and is then broadcast by a team of advocates, who can apply decades of experience in the field and a working knowledge of the international human rights arena. The flow of information – due to domestic restrictions – often goes from the source and out to the international community via our program, which then builds a pressure for action that steadily makes its way back to the source through his or her own government.   However these cases in bulk create a narrative – and this is most important aspect of our program. As noted by Sri Lankan human rights lawyer and director of the Asian Human Rights Commission, Basil Fernando:

"The urgent appeal introduces narrative as the driving force for social change. This idea was well expressed in the film Amistad, regarding the issue of slavery. The old man in the film, former president and lawyer, states that to resolve this historical problem it is very essential to know the narrative of the people. It was on this basis that a court case is conducted later. The AHRC establishes the narrative of human rights violations through the urgent appeals. If the narrative is right, the organisation will be doing all right."

Patterns start to emerge as violations are documented across the continent, allowing us to take a more authoritative, systemic response, and to pinpoint the systems within each country that are breaking down. This way we are able to discover and explain why and how violations take place, and how they can most effectively be addressed. On this path, larger audiences have opened up to us and become involved: international NGOs and think tanks, national human rights commissions and United Nations bodies.  The program and its coordinators have become a well-used tool for the international media and for human rights education programs. All this helps pave the way for radical reforms to improve, protect and to promote human rights in the region.