NEW DELHI – As attacks against the media in the disturbed Himalayan kingdom of Nepal continue unchecked, international media organization Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) warns this will impact independent reporting in the region.
The organization is supporting efforts by the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) to obtain the release of three journalists held by the authorities and two others kidnapped by Maoist rebels, demanding the rebels guarantee press freedom in the regions under their control.
On Sept. 1, demonstrators assaulted journalists and attacked several media offices in the capital Kathmandu. RSF called on home minister Purna Bahadur Khadka to explain why the police failed to protect media offices and journalists during the Kathmandu protests.
It renewed its call for the government to release journalists Raju Kshetri and Maheshwar Pahari, of the weekly Rashtriya Swabhiman (National Pride), and Jeetman Basnet, of the monthly Sagarmatha Times, who are being held under poor conditions.
Significantly, Nepal’s apex court – the Supreme Court – has already ordered the release of the two journalists.
In recent years, the press freedom organization has regularly deplored attacks on journalists and obstruction of their work by the rebels and security forces. It has put both rebel leader Pushpan Kamal Dahal (Comrade Prachanda) and Nepalese King Gyanendra on its worldwide list of "predators of press freedom."
Lamentably, there has been no letup in attacks against the media. The Maoist rebels, heavily criticized after the Aug. 11 execution of Radio Nepal reporter Dekendra Raj Thapa, continue to intimidate and threaten journalists in the country’s remote districts.
Bijay Mishra, a reporter for the daily Kantipur in the eastern district of Siraha, received a death threat on Sept. 2 from a rebel cadre known as "Bibek," who promised him "the same fate as Dekendra Raj Thapa." The Maoists accused him of failing to report their activities in his newspaper.
Baikuntha Dahal, a freelance journalist in the eastern district of Udaypur, has been receiving death threats from the Maoists for several weeks, especially in their clandestine radio broadcasts, because of his alleged support for the armed forces.
Anup Gurung, of the local weekly Purva Mechi, was arrested on Aug. 29 in the eastern district of Ilam when rebels forced him to join the "people’s divisions" as punishment for his critical reports on their activities in the region.
According to RSF, the hapless journalist was forced to work as a porter but managed to escape.
In August, journalist Durga Thapa was held for more than two weeks in eastern Nepal. The rebels are thought to have seriously violated press freedom at least a dozen times this year, through murders, kidnappings and death threats.
The violent demonstrations that erupted in Kathmandu on Sept. 1 after the execution of 12 Nepalese hostages in Iraq the previous day spread to the media when protesters set fire to the offices of the privately-owned media groups Kantipur and Space Time.
At least five Kantipur employees were attacked by the demonstrators. Despite media appeals, police did not intervene. A dozen journalists, including Minal Pandey, of the Nepal 1 TV station, and Kiran Pandey, of the fortnightly magazine Himal Khabarpatrika, were attacked while reporting on the disturbances.
RSF reports that even the security forces are lashing out at the media.
Badri Khadka, said to be the correspondent of the banned pro-Maoist weekly Janadesh in the eastern districts of Mechi and Koshi, was arrested and tortured by the security forces and reportedly killed by them on Aug. 29 in Govindapur (Morang district).
According to reports from local journalists, his body had been badly mutilated. The security forces are yet to confirm his death, which was announced by the rebels.
RSF has been unable to confirm that Khadka, 27, worked for Janadesh, which became an online publication after it stopped appearing in print in August 2003.
The press freedom organization terms the total support of the staff of Janadesh for the armed rebellion of the Nepalese Communist Party as a serious violation of journalistic ethics, and condemns the paper’s calls for violence.
Rebels in midwestern Nepal’s Dailekh District claimed to have killed Thapa, a journalist for state-run Radio Nepal and head of a local drinking water project, on Aug. 16. According to local news reports, after his murder, local rebel commanders told Thapa’s family they intended to kill nine other journalists in neighboring districts.
The Maoists had abducted Thapa on June 26.