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Nepal's Censored Media Seek New Ways to Get News Out

After seizing power earlier this week, Nepal's King Gyanendra ordered strict media censorship, forbidding newspapers from publishing articles critical of the government. While few are optimistic that the king will ease restrictions, some newspapers have found creative ways to get their messages out.

The office of the Himal Media group is nearly abandoned. The publishing house based in Nepal's capital, Kathmandu, produced two newspapers and two news magazines, until earlier this week. Papers and office clutter still litter the empty desks, signs of the reporting that used to take place here.

On Tuesday, King Gyanendra took control of the government, putting political leaders under house arrest and installing a new cabinet, which he says will rule for the next three years. Authorities also issued a notice forbidding newspapers from publishing articles critical of the king and government.

Rajendra Dahal, an editor of a bi-monthly news magazine put out by Himal Media, says the situation is almost hopeless.

"There are no legal ways out also," said Rajendra Dahal. "All doors are closed. So now we have just to confine within that notice and we have to censor ourselves. And if our censorship, our self-censorship, is not felt enough by the authorities, we are threatened, we are convicted, we are arrested. That's the thing, and some of our friends are already arrested."

King Gyanendra says he acted because Nepal's political parties had failed to organize elections and to stop a long-running conflict with Maoist insurgents in the countryside.

International communications to Kathmandu are cut off, as is most Internet access.

Still, some journalists and political activists are finding ways to express themselves.

Since the government takeover, several of Himal Media publications and some other independent newspapers have published editorials on archery, ballet dancing, and the importance of wearing clean socks. Those, Mr. Dahal says, are satire.

"That is also one way of protest, instead of royal address, writing editorials on tree felling, tree cutting, archery, ballet dance - that's also a demonstration of unsatisfaction, [and] protest," he said.

One of Himal Media's publications, the English language newspaper, the Nepali Times, published an editorial on how people should appreciate Nepal's fine weather, specifically, its sunny days. Another focused on the importance of saving trees.

Mr. Dahal points out the Nepalese Communist Party and the Nepali Congress Party opposed the king's actions. The party symbol for the Communists is the sun; for the Congress Party, it is a tree.

Newspaper publishers are not the only ones seeking other means to get their message out.

Sujata Koirala is a leader of the Nepali Congress party and the daughter of Nepal's former prime minister, Girija Prasad Koirala, who is one of the many political leaders under house arrest.

She says supporters of the former leader have smuggled out an audio cassette of a speech Mr. Koirala made after his arrest, which condemns the king's actions. It has been distributed across Nepal, to listeners eager for news.

"That cassette - we have made a lot of copies," she said. "We are sending everywhere. It's already distributed all over. Then they put that cassette on mic [microphone] and when the police come, they just run away. So the people there get very excited."

The international community has largely condemned King Gyanendra's actions, calling for the release of political leaders and the lifting of media restrictions. Mr. Dahal says that does not go far enough. He and other Nepalese journalists want the international community to cut off aid to the government and impose sanctions on Nepal. That, they believe, is the only way freedom of expression will return.