The Return of the King in Nepal

Every time we in Nepal think things can’t get worse, they do.

In 2001, as our Maoist insurgency intensified and casualties soared, almost the entire royal family – including King Birendra – were massacred by one of Nepal’s princes. The next year, parliament was dissolved and local elected bodies were disbanded. As political parties bickered, King Gyanendra, who succeeded his murdered brother, sacked the prime minister in 2002 and ruled through an appointed cabinet.

Last week, King Gyanendra sacked his prime minister again, declared a state of emergency, and suspended civil liberties. Nepal’s 15-year experiment with democracy now seems over. Since February 1, the Nepali media have been subjected to absolute censorship. Nothing that goes against the “letter and spirit” of the king’s dismissal of his government is allowed to be printed and broadcast, and “action will be taken against anyone violating the notice.”

Armed soldiers now sit in newsrooms, vetting the galleys before they go off to press. Sometimes, they change headlines that they think are critical of the royal move. Nepal’s vibrant FM radio stations – once models for decentralized public-service broadcasting and community radio – have been prohibited from broadcasting current affairs. Some FM stations have been locked down and are silent.