Wed, Mar 30, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Nepalese journalists protest against media censorship


Hundreds of Nepalese journalists defied a government ban on rallies and marched through the capital yesterday demanding the restoration of press freedom, which was suspended last month when the king seized power.

Police closely monitored the march, but unlike in previous protests, they did not intervene or arrest any of the participants.

Waving banners, about 300 journalists joined the rally in the capital, Katmandu.

"We are going to fight until all press freedom are restored in the country," said Taranath Dahal, president of Federation of Nepalese Journalists, an umbrella organization of media rights groups in the Himalayan kingdom.

King Gyanendra suspended civil liberties on Feb. 1, when he seized power and imposed emergency rule. He said he was forced to take action because of the country's escalating communist insurgency and rampant corruption among politicians.

Since the takeover, newspapers and other media outlets have been heavily censored, and some journalists have been arrested for criticizing the king. The Federation said at least 13 journalists remain in detention.

Yesterday's protest came a day after police arrested about 120 activists in Katmandu and other cities who defied the ban on demonstrations to protest the king's power grab.

Many of the protesters rallied Monday outside the Central Secretariat, which houses the prime minister's office as well as several other ministries and government offices in Katmandu.

"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 political party flags and chanted anti-government slogans, surprising the police. They were able to block traffic for a few minutes before police dragged them into vans and drove them away.

It was the first time since Gyanendra's takeover that protesters have been able to demonstrate so close to the government's main offices.

Many politicians have been detained or driven underground since early last month, although the new monarchist government has freed some opposition figures in recent weeks. Still, police have acted quickly to break up sporadic rallies.

Nepal's government 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 while the US has said it is considering stopping the aid that Nepal needs to fight the insurgents.

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