Government Reports 2,300 Arrests, Closes Two Newspapers
KATMANDU, Nepal (AP) _ The government shut down two weekly newspapers Wednesday and said five more would be closed shortly in its crackdown against opponents of the kingdom’s party-less system of government.
Also, Home Minister Jog Mehar Shrestha said 2,300 people had been arrested for ″activities hostile to panchayat democracy″ since the campaign against the system began in mid-May. He said about 1,000 of those had been released and the rest would be freed if they sign a document stating they do not oppose the party-less system of government known as panchayat.
The banned Congress Party, which launched the anti-panchayat agitation, issued a statement Tuesday saying 6,799 activists had been arrested. It said the agitation would continue until parliamentary democracy is restored. The father of reigning King Birendra dissolved parliament in 1960 in favor of the panchayat system.
A Communications Ministry spokesman said the government had canceled the registrations of the Sanghu and Yugdhara newspapers, both published in Katmandu, because they printed unfavorable stories about the panchayat system. He said similar action ″will be completed shortly″ against five other newspapers, which he did not identify.
The spokesman, who demanded anonymity, said there is freedom to develop journalism in Nepal ″but none would be spared if he or she tried to misuse″ it.
The Nepal Journalists Association said earlier that police had arrested at least 10 journalists across the Himalayan kingdom since the anti-panchayat campaign began.
The Congress Party wants to replace the panchayat, an assembly elected directly at the village, district, zone, and national levels, with a Western- style parliament to ″increase the understanding and confidence between the king and the people,″ said a party member who declined to be identified.
Protests began May 19 when university students backed by the Communist Party called for a nationwide strike. Police prevented the strike, and killed two people when they fired on students protesting southeast of Katmandu. No one was arrested.
The Congress Party began its peaceful protest on May 23, the sixth anniversary of the 1979 referendum called by the king in which voters narrowly chose the panchayat over the parliamentary system. Following the referendum, the king enacted limited democratic reforms but maintained the ban on political parties.
Congress leaders planned to prevent civil servants from entering the central secretariat on May 23, but failed when police rounded up top party leaders, including its president, Krishna Prashad Bhattarai, senior leader Ganesh Man Singh and its secretary-general, Girija Prashad Koirala.
The socialist-leaning party has rejected an alliance with the communists, fearing the movement would grow violent, said party activist M.S. Basnet. Nonetheless, the Communists support the agitation, party spokesman Bala Ram Upadhyaya said Monday. He called for a united front ″among all the democratic and people’s forces.″