Thursday, May 23, 2013

Nepal: In Nepal, press faces litigation for critical coverage of courts


Committee to Protect Journalists

Judicial authorities in Nepal should stop targeting outlets of the Kathmandu-based Kantipur Publications and dismiss a case filed against the organization and one of its journalists that accuses them of contempt of court, the Committee to Protect Journalists said on May 16, 2013.

On Monday May 13, lawyer Anjani Kumar Pokhrel filed a case against Kantipur Publications and journalist Vijaya Kumar Pandey in connection with a critical column published on Saturday May 11 in the daily Kantipur, news reports said. Pokhrel also named Kailash Sirohiya, chairman of Kantipur Publications; Swastika Sirohiya, its director; and Kantipur Editor-in-Chief Sudheer Sharma as defendants, news reports said. Sharma told CPJ that this was a politically motivated case to suppress their media freedom. The media organization owns several widely circulated print publications, a national television network, and a radio station.

Pandey's article criticized a decision by a judge to expel journalist Ghanashyam Khadka from a courtroom on April 30 because of the journalist's attire, according to news reports. The Kantipur daily also said on May 3 that the Nepali judiciary had restricted reporters from its sister publications from covering open court sessions the day before.

Journalists with Kantipur Publications say they believe they are being targeted in retaliation for critical coverage by the organization's publications. In addition to Pandey's article in the Kantipur daily, several other Kantipur publications have also criticized the courts in recent weeks for clearing the way for the controversial appointment of a government official who has been accused of corruption and helping to suppress the 2006 Democracy Movement in Nepal.

In his complaint against Kantipur Publications, Pokhrel said that media criticism of the courts could cause the public to distrust the judiciary and the judges, and that the defendants should be punished to discourage the trend of interfering with the activities of the judiciary, news reports said. He urged the Supreme Court to impose a one-year jail term and a fine of Rs. 10,000 (US$114) on each defendant for tarnishing the image of the judiciary under section 7 of the Supreme Court Act, reports said.

On Wednesday May 15, the court ordered a review of Pandey's article, along with several other judiciary-related news reports published by Kantipur Publications since Khadka's expulsion from court.

"The media in Nepal must be free and unrestricted to report on the judiciary and its decisions," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "The judiciary must halt such attempts to obstruct and intimidate the press, which runs counter to democracy in Nepal."