Press freedom has worsened in Nepal: Rights group
International media rights groups on Saturday condemned the increasing restrictions on the Nepalese media and a crackdown on critics of King Gyanendra that has seen up to 600 journalists detained in the past year.
Press freedom has "significantly deteriorated" in Nepal since Gyanendra seized absolute power last year, representatives of 12 international media organisations said on Saturday at the end of a week-long visit to the Himalayan kingdom.
"The continuing military and civil authorities' harassment, attacks and detention of media professionals, and the seizure of equipment ... is having a devastating effect on independent media," said a statement from the group, which held separate meetings with government ministers and communist rebel leaders during their visit.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, a media rights watchdog, said Nepal has more journalists in detention than any other country.
"Nearly 600 journalists were arrested by the government over the last one year, while the Maoist rebels have held three journalists during the same period," Vincent Brossel of Reporters Without Borders group told journalists in the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu.
There is also mounting concern about the increasing involvement of the Royal Nepalese Army and armed police forces in violating press freedom, the group said.
The royal government has imposed severe restrictions on journalists since King Gyanendra grabbed power in February last year and introduced new media laws.
The government has also prohibited independent reporting on the country's communist insurgency, imposing a maximum penalty of two years in prison and a fine of 500,000 rupees (US$7,000; euro 5,800) on journalists and newspapers that violate the ban.
The Maoist rebels, who say they are inspired by Chinese revolutionary Mao Zedong, have fought for a decade to replace the constitutional monarchy with a communist state.
The insurgency has claimed nearly 13,000 lives.