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Journalists, Right to Information activists attacked by protesters demonstrating against vice president's use of Hindi language; media targeted by students calling for general strike

(FNJ/IFEX) - On 27 July 2008, news correspondent Janak Gautam and camera operator Niranjul Kayestha, of Avenues Television station, were attacked by a group of protesters at Kalopool, in the capital city of Kathmandu.

According to Pramod Ayam, secretary of FNJ's Avenues chapter, the two reporters had gone to Kalopool after repeated requests from the organisers to cover the protest. The demonstrators attacked the news crew, saying they did not reach to the site on time. The assailants damaged the reporters' motorbike and camera. The police failed to respond to the attack.

Nepali citizens have been protesting against Vice President Paramananda Jha's use of the Hindi language while taking an oath on 23 July. President Ram Baran Yadav administered the oath to Jha in Nepali but the vice president translated it and read it in Hindi.

FNJ denounced the attack, saying it was disgraceful that the news crew was assaulted after they were invited to cover the protest. FNJ calls on the authorities to punish the guilty parties.

In a similar incident, also on 27 July, protesters demonstrating against the vice president's decision attacked a team of Right to Information activists in Nijgadh Chowk, in the central district of Bara.

KC Lamichhane, secretary of FNJ's Parsa chapter, said the protesters obstructed the team's vehicle and harassed the team, consisting of Taranath Dahal, president of the National News Agency (RSS) and Freedom Forum chairperson, project coordinator Krishna Pokharel, Right to Information trainer Nayan Bahadur Khadka, ARTICLE 19's Nepal Representative Santosh Sigdel and journalist Chandra Kishor Jha.

The group was traveling to Gaur to carry out a pre-scheduled training session and campaign on the Right to Information Act. According to a Freedom Forum press release, even though the team presented their identification papers, the unruly mob of protesters smashed the car windows and assaulted Chandra Kishor Jha, who sustained injuries in the attack.

FNJ condemned the incident, calling it "disgusting and irresponsible" to attack journalists and Right to Information activists who are trying to empower people and strengthen democracy through their campaigns and trainings. The federation asked the government to immediately sanction those responsible for the attack and to provide compensation.

In a separate development, on 26 July, correspondent Lavadev Dhungana, of "The Kathmandu Post" daily newspaper, was threatened by students affiliated with the Communist Party of Nepal-United Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML). The incident occurred at Phidim, Panchthar, in eastern Nepal.

According to information published in "The Kathmandu Post", CPN-UML students Anita Rai and Sarita Lawati stopped Dhungana while he was on his way to the office and threatened him for driving his motorbike during the banda (general strike). The newspaper reported that CPN-UML district member Rajkumar Bhandari has expressed sadness over the incident and has pledged to take action against the guilty students.

Similarly, a vehicle belonging to Kantipur Publications was seized by demonstrating students for two hours on 25 July at Itahari, Sunsari, eastern Nepal. The vehicle was on its way to deliver newspapers to the surrounding districts.

The student union called for a nationwide public transport strike after students were denied a 45 per cent concession which had been agreed upon between the government and the public transportation union.

FNJ condemned the students' action which interfered with the work of the media and urged them to not repeat it in the future. The students are believed to be well aware of the right to information and journalists' duty to report on the news.

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