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Investigation into journalist's abduction continues in context of ongoing violence against media

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is an abridged 20 November 2007 IPI press release:

IPI Welcomes Investigation into Journalist's Abduction in Nepal, Condemns Continued Violence against the Media

Vienna, 20 November 2007 - The International Press Institute (IPI), the global network of editors, media executives and leading journalists in over 120 countries, welcomes the creation of a probe committee to investigate the whereabouts of Nepalese journalist Prakash Singh Thakuri, who went missing in the western town of Mahendranagar on 5 July 2007. The five-member committee is expected to submit its report to the Kanchanpur district administration office within 15 days of its creation on 16 November.

Three days after the abduction of Thakuri, who is the editor and publisher of the royalist newspaper Aajako Samachar, a group calling itself the National Republican Army of Nepal said it was behind the kidnapping and it had killed the journalist because of his articles in support of King Gyanendra.

Meanwhile, police have arrested local CPN-Maoist cadre Pop Lal Sharma in connection with the incident. According to reports, Thakuri's wife informed the police that Pop Lal Sharma had inquired about Thakuri on the morning of 5 July.

Despite some recent positive political developments in Nepal, the widespread disrespect for press freedom still strongly affects journalists and media outlets' ability to report freely and makes Nepal a very dangerous country for journalists.

Attacks against journalists were common place during the ten years of civil war between Maoist rebels and the constitutional monarchy; and press freedom was greatly restricted after the imposition by Nepal's King Gyanendra of the state of emergency in 2005.

However, in April 2006, after months of public protests, King Gyanendra was forced to give up absolute power; and, in May 2006, the new multi-party government eased some of the press freedom restrictions.

While the end of King Gyanendra's direct rule in April 2006, the subsequent Peace Agreement, as well as the 18 July unanimous approval by the Legislature-Parliament of the Right to Information Act represent improvements for Nepal's press freedom, violence against journalists is unabated. In the past months, the Maoists, and other rebel groups, particularly in the southern Terai region, or Madhesh, have regularly attacked journalists either for not covering their activities or for covering them in a negative light.

Two journalists were killed in Nepal in September and October 2007. In one case, that of Birendra Shah, Bara district correspondent for Nepal FM, Dristi weekly and Avenues TV, investigations carried out by the government as a consequence of strong local and international pressure have shown that the killing had been ordered by a local Maoist cadre. Shah had written various articles critical of the Maoists. A report of the Maoist committee investigating the killing of Shah states that the journalist was abducted on 5 October on the instructions of Lal Bahadur Chaudhary, Bara district committee member and area leader of the Maoist party. Maoist cadres Kundan Faujdar and Ram Yekbal Sahani helped Chaudhary abduct Shah and later shot him to death.

On 14 September, the body of Shankar Panthi, correspondent for the local pro-Maoist Naya Satta Daily in the western district of Nawalparasi, was found by the roadside. The journalist was returning from covering a news event at the time of his death. Police said the journalist died in an accident. However, Panthi's suspicious death sparked protests and the Association of Revolutionary Journalists called for a thorough investigation to exclude Panthi's murder in connection with his work.

Indeed, the general attitude towards journalists in Nepal is such, that killings, threats, harassment and other forms of attacks have become a common way of silencing them. Despite recent improvements in the political situation, journalists continue to find themselves targeted as a consequence of power struggles between various political groups. This represents a serious threat not only to independent reporting and press freedom, but mostly to journalists' safety.

[. . . ]

Many other journalists throughout Nepal were physically attacked and threatened in the past six months because of their reports on corruption, smuggling and other illegal activities. And while police, local leaders, armed groups and individuals show equal disrespect for press freedom and for the media's most important role in the democratisation process, the state has often been unable to protect journalists and ensure their ability to carry out their profession.

The upcoming Constitutional Assembly elections, currently scheduled for the first quarter of 2008, represent a vital step in Nepal's peace and democratisation process. The fairness of these elections will depend greatly on the media's ability to report freely on them.

Due to the number of attacks against the media and the deterioration of the press freedom situation, IPI's Board on 17 November 2007 decided to keep Nepal on the IPI Watch List and closely monitor developments in the country. The IPI Watch List report on Nepal is available on the IPI website: http://www.freemedia.at

For the complete press release, see: http://www.freemedia.at/cms/ipi/statements_detail.html?ctxid=CH0055&docid=CMS1195570434280

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