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Journalist brutally assaulted by members of ruling party's youth wing

(Freedom Forum/IFEX) - A serious incident involving an attack on a journalist has come to Freedom Forum's attention. The incident occurred on the evening of 5 June 2011 in the city of Biratnagar, southeastern Nepal.

Members of the Youth Force (YF), a sister organisation of the ruling Communist Party of Nepal Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), attacked Khilanath Dhakal, a reporter for the "Nagarik" national daily paper. The journalist was criticised for having reported on an attack by YF cadres on a police team at the Morang district court.

Dhakal was brutally beaten by a number of YF cadres, including the driver of the group's district chairman, Parshu Ram Basnet. The reporter's nose was broken and he suffered serious injuries to his head and other parts of his body.

The attack was orchestrated by Rohit Koirala, who heads the YF in Biratnagar. He approached the journalist near the district education office and took him to a secluded area under the pretext of having a conversation. Dhakal was then surrounded by the YF cadres and brutally beaten.

Managing to escape, Dhakal was picked up by a police patrol and taken to hospital. "If the police had not come across me on time, I would have been finished off right there," the journalist was quoted as saying in "Nagarik" newspaper.

The reporter has filed a complaint with the police. On 7 June, local journalists also submitted a written complaint against Basnet and his aides, Koirala and Manoj Rai, at the Morang District Police Office.

In response, Basnet, who is the prime accused in the attack, warned the journalists of "dire consequences" if the complaint lodged against him and his two aides was not withdrawn.

"He (Basnet) called me today, saying the complaint can be withdrawn even after it lands in the office of the government attorney and warning us to take it back," journalist Gokul Parajuli told a gathering of fellow reporters on 7 June. "He said he has given us a chance to withdraw the complaint and asked us to consider this option."

The police arrested Koirala on 7 June but Basnet and Rai are still at large. The police administration has been reluctant to arrest Basnet, which suggests that the Morang district chairman has likely been given political protection.

Meanwhile, the legislature has condemned the brutal attack. Addressing a parliamentary meeting on 7 June, UCPN (Maoist) Spokesman Dinanath Sharma said, "The incident of a journalist being attacked by the members of the prime minister's own party's youth organization, the Youth Force, is very serious. The incident sends the wrong message to the people."

Freedom Forum condemns the attack on Dhakal and wishes for his speedy recovery. It strongly urges the CPN-UML, and its sister organisation the YCL, not to repeat such inhuman acts which are an assault on the free press, human rights and democracy.

Freedom Forum also condemns the threats issued against the journalists by Basnet. It urges the government and other concerned authorities to immediately arrest the prime accused and bring him to book in accordance with the law. If he is not sanctioned, impunity will prevail and journalists will face increasing insecurity. Moreover, it would be an indication that media freedom is being gagged by the weakening democracy in the country.
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