When "No News" = "Bad News"

No news is bad news these days in Nepal, where the freedoms of press, expression, and assembly were suspended last week in an old-fashioned government crackdown.

King Gyanendra—who came to power only after the soap-opera–quality 2001 palace massacre—moved last week to dismiss the elected government, cut phone and Internet lines to the outside world, and outlaw dissent. The press bore the brunt of the new restrictions.

"His Majesty's Government has banned for six months any interview, article, news, notice, view or personal opinion that goes against the letter and spirit of the Royal Proclamation on 1 Feb 2005 and that directly or indirectly supports destruction and terrorism," a palace directive read. The February 1 directive apparently called for allegiance to the throne as it battles a stubborn Maoist insurgency.

How are local media dealing? The websites of The Katmandu Post and The People's Review are down, although it's not clear if that's due to the crackdown or some technical problem. State-controlled Radio Nepal reported Monday that phone and Internet service have been restored. (All these and more news sites from around the world can be found at world-newspapers.com.)

A publisher's note at nepalnews.com apologized to readers for "being unable to update our news services since February 01, 2005 due to circumstances beyond our control."

"Nepalnews, in a new get-up, would operate within the ambit of the state of emergency declared in the country and in accordance with various directives issued by the government," the notice continued. "We would like our readers to take note of this."

Readers outside Nepal might take note that while King G has orchestrated a sudden shutdown of his country's free press, other governments around the world are waging a quiet, steady campaign toward the same goal.

Last week the Committee to Protect Journalists reported that as of December 31, 2004, 122 journalists were in prison around the world, most for violating various "anti-state" laws. The United States even made the list, with the home detention of Rhode Island TV reporter Jim Taricani for refusing to divulge who provided him with an illegally leaked videotape.

According to CPJ, four countries lead the way in jailing journos: China has 42 locked up, Cuba 23, Eritrea 17 and Burma 11. The United States for years has used trade sanctions to punish Cuba and Burma for their lousy human rights records. But Washington has worked for more than a decade to increase trade with China and has normal diplomatic relations with Eritrea.

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