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Nepal: Martial Law Declared

by sources: various - 08.02.2005 18:43

The following report was brought out by courier from Kathmandu, where all communication with the outside world is cut off, except for select satellite telephones and internet connections mostly controlled by embassies. The general public had no access to communication with the outside world from 10:00 AM on 1 February 2005 until at least 7:00 PM on 2 February 2005. All domestic telephones are also shut off, both mobile and land lines. People are traveling from one place to another to communicate. 

Radio Sagarmatha, Feb. 3, 2005
Radio Sagarmatha, Feb. 3, 2005

Freedom of expression, political organizing, assembly, among others, have been the first casualties of the king's takeover on February 1, 2005. Below are only a small number of incidents narrated by those working in the press sector in Nepal:

This is a photo of the building that houses Radio Sagarmatha in Kathmandu. This is South Asia's first community radio station, and it is now occupied by army personnel who require that all news is passed by them for approval, at least as of 2 days ago. The same holds true for other media outlets including the largest newspapers in the country.

1. All private media houses have been virtually run by military personnel since yesterday. In Rajdhani daily, one of the vernacular dailies published from Kathmandu, an army major commanded about a dozen military personnel and made the editors to show all reports to him for approval before the paper is sent to press. "You have written about Girija and Madhav Kumar Nepal for the last fourteen years. Now is the time for you to write about His Majesty the king", the major told one of the editors.

2. In the Kantipur offices, which publishes Kantipur and Kathmandu Post dailies as well as broadcasting the Kantipur news program on television, army personnel circulate through the newsroom. The newspaper staff reports that they have been told to pass all stories by army personnel for approval before printing the paper, or the newspapers will be shut down. Army personnel also stand by in the broadcasting building while news programs are being aired. The 2 February 2005 Kathmandu Post printed mainly news stories from the governmental news feed, the Rastriya Samachar Samiti, while most days this paper publishes mainly reports by staff writers.

3. In Jana Astha, a vernacular weekly published from Kathmndu, the army major sat in a chair in front of the editor's table and dictated word by word what he should be writing in the editorial. It was another matter for discussion whether the paper could publish an abstract cartoon, which showed a pigeon escaping from two hands, effectively meaning the peace will become more distant.

4. A number of armymen sat through the night in the office of Sankhu, a vernacular weekly published from Kathmandu, even though the publishers and editorial team had decided not to publish their coming issue.

5. Radio Sagarmatha, the first community radio station in South Asia, is now being manned full-time by khaki-clad and machine-gun-totting Royal Nepal Army officers. They have not allowed any news, discussions and regular programs to be broadcast. This morning (Feb 2), they did not even allowed a discussion on women's health problems of uterus prolapse. The officers said that no news can be broadcast from now onwards. The army personnel control the coming and going records of all the visitors including all the staffs (photographs attached).

6. In Pokhara, a city 200 kilometers west of Kathmandu, armymen told local media houses to shut down "until further notice". "You don't have to publish news from now onwards. This is the responsibility of the Kathmandu-based daily papers," an army personnel stationed in one of the media houses was quoted as saying to a local reporter of one of the national vernacular dailies.

7. The king 'invited' all the editors of major national dailies and 'asked' them to cooperate with his government.

8. All the FM stations outside the Kathmandu valley have been shut down.

9. Army personnel have taken charge of both Nepal Telecom and UTL, the two companies providing telephone and other communication services. All mobile and landline telephone service was still shut off as of 2 February evening.

10. Army personnel have taken control of all the internet-service providers in the country and have shut down all internet service.

11. Security forces have placed the leaders of most of the political parties under arrest until further notice. Student group leaders have also been placed under arrest. It is also said that the head of a major human rights organization was also placed under arrest.

Martial Law Declared in Nepal

Nepal: All communication links were cut after the King Gyanendra's announcement of suspending parliament and fundamental rights, on Tuesday, 1st of february.

The situation in Nepal is FAR worse than previously thought, The King is conducting massive repression and there is a communication blackout - this is one of the few reports getting out of Nepal.

This brief news digest was prepared by Sara Shneiderman and Mark Turin, researchers from Cornell and Cambridge universities, who are currently based in Nepal. Due to the ongoing communications blackout and widespread censorship in effect, little information about Nepal is getting out. We are sending this email out through a secure V-SAT link from a foreign mission in Kathmandu. Please disseminate this news digest widely to friends of Nepal, to media outlets and to politicians in your own country who may be willing to express their condemnation of the King's action. We will continue to send brief updates as often as we can until communications are restored.

Subject: news digest from Kathmandu, Friday, Feb 4, 2005, 11am

Location: Kathmandu, Nepal

Date: Friday, February 4, 2005

At 10am on Tuesday, February 1, 2005, Nepal's King Gyanendra gave a televised address in which he sacked the country's coalition government, dissolved the ministries and suspended fundamental rights under a State of Emergency. Citing Article 127 of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal, 1990, the King constituted a council of ministers under his own chairmanship.

During his 40-minute speech to the nation, he heaped scorn upon Nepal's political parties for allegedly destroying the country's infrastructure. According to the King, despite having had adequate opportunities to resolve the state's ongoing conflict with Maoist insurgents, or call an election, the political parties had failed the people of Nepal. Laying claim to the glorious history of the Shah dynasty, Gyanendra stressed the age-old relationship between King and subjects and promised to restore multi-party democracy within three years.

As the speech came to a close around 10:40am, all fixed and mobile telephone lines were cut, and non-satellite internet connections were down by the end of the day. By noon, the Kathmandu Valley was effectively sealed off from the rest of Nepal and the outside world: Tribhuvan International Airport was closed, with all incoming flights diverted elsewhere, and the main road arteries out of the Valley were blocked by security forces.

Despite these draconian measures, the city was calm, with most shops remaining open through the end of the business day. There were rumours of a curfew, which sent schoolchildren scurrying home in the mid-afternoon, but these were unfounded. Armed security forces in riot gear were deployed across the city, and there was little obvious protest against the King's move.

Many citizens said they were relieved that the King had taken control, stating that there was no other way out of the political stalemate that has crippled the country for the last several months. To them, Gyanendra's move was a brave risk, which would either see the King's previously mixed reputation cleared, or destroyed once and for all. There were also many sceptical voices, who feared a return to Panchayat era secrecy and the repeal of liberties hard-won over the last fourteen years of democratic process.

By Tuesday evening, there was no sign of communications returning, and people gathered what information they could from their colleagues, neighbours and friends. In discussions with Nepali journalists and academics, foreigners in official and diplomatic positions in Kathmandu, conflict monitoring groups and the media, we learned that the leaders of major political parties, trade unions and student organisations were under house arrest or taken to one of six major detention centres around the valley. Captains and majors of the Royal Nepal Army were stationed in the editorial offices of all national dailies in order to censor the morning editions before they were put to bed.

On Wednesday, many of the foreign missions based in Kathmandu issued statements. They had been taken by surprise by the royal-military coup, and the United Nations, Unites States, United Kingdom, the Council of the European Union and India all expressed varying degrees of strongly-worded concern. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said that he would not attend the SAARC summit scheduled for the coming week in Bangladesh as a vote of protest against 'political turmoil' in the region. Only China was reported to have accepted the King's power grab without critique, stating that it would not pass judgement on Nepal's internal affairs. Prachanda, Chairman of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), issued a passionate statement dated February 1 condemning the King's action and calling upon 'pro-people forces' in the country to join with the Maoists to topple the monarchy and build a republic. The Maoists reiterated their call for a three-day national strike, which had predated the royal proclamation.

Judging by the traffic on the streets on Thursday morning, the Maoist call was not heeded, which many saw as an indication of King Gyanendra's influence over the populace and iron grip over the nation's capital. Outside of Kathmandu, the Maoist strike was apparently observed. Reports started to trickle in from the rest of the country, thanks to limited road travel in private vehicles and a brief reprieve in the communications blackout (landlines were turned on for one to two hours each evening, but internet servers, cellular phones and international lines remain blocked).

Specific events reported by reliable sources include a student demonstration at Prithvi Narayan Campus in Pokhara which was fired on by a military helicopter gunship leaving several protestors badly injured if not dead; the blocking of all FM radio broadcasts outside of Kathmandu and the instruction to those broadcasting in Kathmandu to play only entertainment-oriented programmes; the BBC FM station recently established in Kathmandu being forbidden from broadcasting the news in Nepali; the closure of news stands outside of the Valley; and a 72-hour blockade on long-distance public bus travel in and out of Kathmandu.

As of writing on Friday morning, the communications network remains down. Journalists and human rights activists are concerned that they will be the next targets for arrest now that most political leaders have been muted. It remains to be seen how wide the web of detentions will be, but there is a sense of powerlessness and foreboding for the future among those who have previously expressed criticism of the state in any way.

** Please circulate this news widely to encourage international scrutiny of the repression of the Nepali people **