Nepal censors Everest at China’s bidding

April 17th, 2008 - 12:00 pm ICT by admin  

By Sudeshna Sarkar
Kathmandu, April 17 (IANS) While embarking on a historic march for democracy and equality for its own citizens, Nepal has clamped stringent censorship on Mt Everest - the world’s highest peak that is also a symbol of human courage and endurance - in a bid to appease its giant neighbour China. China wants to stop all non-Chinese climbers from scaling the peak before May 10 for fear that protests by Tibet activists could derail the progress of the Olympic torch rally to the peak.

Last month, Nepal announced as unprecedented curb on climbing the peak through the southern route, made famous by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay almost six decades ago. Ths month, it has imposed draconian censorship regulations on teams that want to summit after May 10.

A Canadian expedition says it has been ordered by “military officers not to carry electronic or communications equipment until the torch is at the top”.

Becky Rippel, wife of Tim Rippel, who is leading the Peak Freak expedition, told the Canadian media: “Any notes that go out have to be read by them (military officials).

“So if we post anything on our website, they’re going to know where it’s getting out so we risk Tim’s team being kicked off the mountain.

“That’ll be the hard part, not knowing what’s going on. It’ll be like it was when we first started 18 years ago and there wasn’t any communication and you wouldn’t hear anything till he got home after two months of being gone,” she said.

Earlier this month, as Nepal was readying to hold a historic election regarded as a key step for establishing democracy and equality, the ministry for tourism, culture and civil aviation under the Girija Prasad Koirala government issued written instructions to mountaineers applying for a climbing licence.

For the first time in the history of Mt Everest, climbers had to sign a document agreeing not to “carry and exhibit any things like flags, banners, stickers, pamphlets or any audio visual devices that may harm bilateral relationship between Nepal and China”.

They had to also agree to allow Nepali liaison officers to check any “suspicious” belonging, seize them and expel the team or member found carrying the contraband item.

Climbers were warned of government action for “violating/breaching the law of the land relating to bilateral relations between Nepal and its friendly country”.

All teams have to keep their electronic equipment with Nepal Police at the base camp till May 10.

In a move reminiscent of King Gyanendra’s absolute rule when phone lines were disconnected and censorship imposed on the press, the ministry has ordered that all news regarding the expedition must be conveyed to it first for clearance.

There is also restriction on the use of satellite phones wireless sets and other communication equipment.

“Failure to (comply) may result in confiscation of equipment, cancellation of the expedition permit and additional penalty according to law,” the ministry warned.

The curbs came following China’s fear that pro-Tibet protests would gain international coverage.

In the past, Chinese troops’ firing on unarmed Tibetan monks and nuns, including a large number of children, who were fleeing to Nepal via a Himalayan mountain pass, resulted in the death of a 17-year-old nun.

Although China said the fugitives had attacked patrols, photographs taken by shocked climbers belied the claim.

China’s hosting of the 2008 Olympic Games has sparked a controversy, with the march of the torch greeted with protests in the West and in India.

In Nepal, Tibetans have been protesting against China’s occupation of the former Buddhist kingdom and the crackdown in Tibet that killed over a dozen people.

The protests have continued since last month when the Tibetans worldwide marked the anniversary of a failed uprising against Chinese annexation of Tibet.

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