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Armed groups pose increasing risk to journalists, says RSF; at least 72 attacked or threatened since start of year

(RSF/IFEX) - On 6 June 2007, Reporters Without Borders voiced concern about the safety of journalists in southern Nepal, where armed groups are becoming increasingly active. At least 72 journalists have been attacked or threatened since 1 January, by groups that use violence against the media and the civilian population in general. For a list of the main incidents involving armed groups, see:

"This is alarming," the press freedom organisation said. "Armed militants are harassing journalists with the aim of silencing them or turning them into propagandists. The authorities, especially the interior and information ministries, must do everything possible to put an end to this climate of open hostility. The government has a duty to ensure that the press is able to work, especially in the run-up to elections."

In particular, Reporters Without Borders calls on information and communication minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara, the spokesman of the government as well as the Maoist party, to quickly intercede with all affiliated organisations in order to get them to stop the attacks and threats against journalists.

Although the Maoists agreed to lay down their arms in April 2006, more and more rebel groups are emerging in Nepal, threatening the peace process and the work of journalists, above all in the Terai region. According to information released by the interior ministry, at least nine armed groups are active and do not hesitate to resort to violence.

In some cases, they criticise journalists for producing reports that highlight their abuses. In other cases, their motive for attacking journalists is the lack of coverage of their activities.

In one of the most recent cases, members of the Jantantrik Terai Mukti Morchha (JTMM) threatened Narayani FM and Radio Birgunj employees on 1 June for failing to broadcast any reports about the strike call they had issued. JTMM members kidnapped Auzzar National Daily journalists Rajendra Rai and Dewaan Rai for several hours on 12 January.

Death threats have become commonplace in the southern provinces. The Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum (MJAF) is the most aggressive group towards journalists. The MJAF alone has been responsible for at least 16 cases of threats or violence against journalists since the start of the year, including incidents in Sunsari and Morang on 8 and 9 March.

Members of the Madhesi Tiger Nepal threatened all journalists with "severe reprisals" on 13 March. Members of the Madhesi Adhikar Janatantrik Forum (MAJF) attacked reporters Ram Sarraf, Dhruba Sah, Bhuwan Jha and Kiran Pande on 28 January and threatened to kill any journalists who tried to cover the rioting then taking place.

Members of the Young Communist League, a youth organisation linked to the Maoist party, were reportedly involved in harassing a journalist working for the Nepal One TV station on 27 May. "Narayani Express" employees have also been receiving threats for several months.

At times, no group claims responsibility for the threats or attacks but journalists think they bear the hallmarks of Maoist groups. Such is the case with the harassment of Shambu Sharki on 27 May, the repeated threats against distributors of the newspaper Kantipur in February and March and the threats against Santosh Neupane of the "Narayani Express" on 22 April.

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