NEPALI CIVIL SOCIETY PLANS PUBLIC PROTEST AS ARRESTS,

Thursday 10 February 2005

Washington, DC, February 8, 2005: Nepal’s human rights community is preparing a major public protest against the imposition of military rule by the King, as reports emerge from Nepal of mass arrests, the suppression of the press, and the apparent torture of students.

The protest, which has been scheduled for Thursday, February 10, is being organized by a grouping of human rights advocates that includes the Collective Campaign for Peace (COCAP), a partner of the Advocacy Project. The protesters plan to carry black banners without any slogans to symbolize the "complete blackout" of Nepali democracy and human rights in the country.

Until now the human rights network has operated clandestinely for fear of arrest, and the decision to go public carries considerable risk.

As a result, the organizers are seeking international support from civil society, and from governments that provide aid to Nepal. There is particular disappointment at the muted statement issued by the United States, which described King Gyanendra’s February 1 declaration as a "step back from democracy" and called on the Maoists rebels to abandon their armed struggle.

Meanwhile, reports are reaching the Advocacy Project of a wave of terror that followed the "King’s Coup," as it is widely referred to by many Nepalese. The authorities moved quickly to shut down the media and all communications with the outside world. This was followed by the detention or house arrest of democratic leaders,
civil society heads, and student representatives.

Protests were suppressed ruthlessly. According to one report, Army helicopters fired tear gas and rubber bullets into a large crowd of students who protested peacefully at the Prithvinarayan Campus, in the town of Pokhara. The National Human Rights Commission
has received reports of over 250 students being beaten inside the campus, and 58 were reportedly taken away to be bound, beaten and made to sleep outside in a trench for a night. One international newspaper has described the incident as "Nepal’s Tiananmen Square."

The crisis erupted on February 1 after King Gyanendra invoked article 27-C of the Nepalese constitution to declare a state of emergency and announce the creation of a new government under his chairmanship.

The first challenge for civil society groups was to get accurate information about their detained members, and reconnect with the outside world. All domestic telephones (mobile and landlines) were cut from 10:00 am on the morning of the coup, and all press and media closed down. One of the first civic leaders to be arrested was Tara Nath Dahal, the President of Federation of Nepalese
Journalists (FNJ). The only information reaching the outside world came through individual who were able to leave the country.

But civil society has quickly regrouped, demonstrating its resilience and commitment to democracy. Once telephone communications were restored, NGOs were able to connect by e-mail, and on February 5 human rights groups issued an appeal that called on the international community to demand six specific measures from the Nepalese authorities. These include the unconditional release of those arrested and a halt to "ongoing atrocities by the security forces."

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Nepal has ratified, calls on governments to impose states of emergency only as a last resort and states that core rights must be protected even during a state of emergency. The February 5 appeal bluntly describes the state of emergency as a fraud. "We, the Nepalese people now live under an illegal military rule headed by the King," it states.

Also on February 5, dozens of pro-democracy activists in
Kathmandu formed a "Nepal Democracy Desk" and issued the
first of a series of updates on the crisis. These are being channeled daily to the International Nepal Solidarity Network and the Advocacy Project, and posted on both websites. The INSN site contains an extensive archive of postings and AP has created a new web project page on the crisis.

Members of the INSN and friends of Nepali civil society are urged to repost this information. Indeed, the entire crisis illustrates how information and communications technology can help civil society to mobilize in the middle of a crisis and disseminate badly-needed information to the outside world.

The Advocacy Project has worked closely with the Collective Campaign for Peace (COCAP) since it was established in June 2002. AP sent an intern to work with COCAP in the summer of 2003, and launched an online petition on behalf of COCAP’s coordinator after he was assaulted at his home by plain-clothed security officials in the spring of 2004.

* For a background to the crisis, visit the website of the International Nepal Solidarity Network (INSN) www.insn.org

* To read the dispatches from Nepalese civil society, click here:
http://www.advocacynet.org/cpage_view/NepalCrisis_Appeal_35_105.html

* To read Amnesty International’s latest report on human rights in Nepal [Nepal: Killing with Impunity], click here: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA310012005?open&of=ENG-NPL

* To visit a blogging portal on the situation in Nepal, click here: http://nepalnow.blogspot.com/


AdvocacyNet
News Bulletin - Number 29, February 8, 2005
*********

The Advocacy Project is based in Washington D.C.

Phone:+1 202 332 3900

fax: +1 202 332 4600

Visit the AP web site for information about current
projects: www.advocacynet.org

For more information please e-mail info@advocacynet.org

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