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Attacks on journalists increased alarmingly in August 2008, warns IPI report

(IPI/IFEX) - The following is a 2 September 2008 IPI report:

Attacks on the Nepalese Media Perpetrated at Alarming Rate During August 2008

On 30 August, journalist Siddharaj Rai was physically attacked, reportedly by members of the Young Communist League (YCL), the youth wing of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoists)(CPN (Maoist)). Just two days earlier, on 28 August, Kantipur Television's manager Raj Kumar Sedhai was stabbed by unknown assailants. These incidents are only the most recent examples of a disconcerting pattern of violence against journalists and media workers in Nepal.
According to information provided by the IPI Nepal Press Freedom Centre and other sources, at least 23 press freedom violations occurred in Nepal during August 2008. These attacks, directed against both media workers and media outlets, included at least seven instances of physical harassment, eight cases of threats and intimidation against journalists, five instances of damaged property, the brief detention of 59 journalists, and the cancellation of a radio news programme, allegedly as a consequence of pressure from local activists.

In a post-election meeting during June 2008, leaders of Nepal's major parties reassured IPI delegates of the parties' support for press freedom and freedom of expression in the country.

In addition, in an interview with N. Ravi, the Editor of The Hindu, who joined IPI's Press Freedom Mission to Nepal in June, CPN (Maoist) leader and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda, stated that the Maoists were committed to press freedom and democratic rights. He added that they would strengthen the legal provisions protecting press freedom, and ensure journalist safety.

However, the number of attacks against journalists associated with political parties remains alarmingly high, with the CPN (Maoist) party and its youth wing responsible for at least four attacks in August alone. The attacks appear to be largely motivated by a desire to prevent the publication and distribution of negative news coverage.

On 2 August, a member of the YCL, Arun Kumar Gohit, issued a death threat against Rajesh Jha, a Saptari District-based correspondent of the National News Agency (RSS) and member of the Nepal Press Union. Jha was threatened over a news report relating to the deadly beating of Saptari District Education Officer Mohammed Hasad Ali by members of the YCL.

Although the perpetrator publicly apologised the following day, the YCL issued another death threat only six days later, over a report covering an attack on Nepali Congress members carried out by the YCL.

On 18 August, Laxmi Devkota, defence lawyer of the notorious French serial killer Charles Sobhraj, threatened The Himalayan Times journalist Ananta Raj Luitel for reporting on Sobhraj's case and his alleged desire to establish good relations with members of the CPN (Maoist). Devkota, who is the wife of CPN (Maoist) Constituent Assembly member Khim lal Devkota, allegedly also indicated that the party would investigate and take action against the journalist.

Press freedom violations carried out by those affiliated with the CPN (Maoist) are particularly concerning in view of the party's political power and victory in the recent national elections. However, other parties and groups in Nepal demonstrate a similar disrespect of the fundamental right to press freedom and freedom of expression.

Members of the Youth Force, affiliated with the Communist Party of Nepal - United Marxists and Leninists (CPN-UML), seized approximately 500 copies of The Kathmandu Post (TKP) and the Kantipur Daily on 7 August. They also threatened journalist Ramesh Chandra Adhikari for collecting information about their group, which led to the publication of articles on the Youth Force and other groups illegally collecting taxes in the Dhankuta region.

On the same day, cadres of the Madhesi Janaadhikar Forum (MFJ) vandalized the office and motorbike of the Praktik Daily, after the newspaper published an article stating that a complaint filed by Kedar Teli, husband of the MFJ's Women Wing Chairperson Rheka Shah, was ungrounded. In the complaint, Kedar Teli accused two men, Deepak Uphadhyay and Dilip Uphadhyay, of stealing his motorbike; the article stated that he himself was seen riding it.

In a separate incident, the office of the Janalakshya Daily was vandalised on August 1 by a women's assistance group, led by Sapana Malla, an activist, lawyer and member of the Constituent Assembly. Malla is also the 2008 winner of the Gruber Women's Rights Award. The group also physically attacked journalist Suman Puri for reporting about its involvement in the registration of sex workers in the district administration office.

The armed groups of the Terai National Liberation Army (TNLA) and the Terai National Liberation Front (TNLF) also pose an increasing threat to journalists and media outlets based in the Dhanusha region. Since 4 August, journalists in this region have received threats warning them to stop broadcasting and publishing news in the Nepali language. Instead, the media decided to ignore the threats and to stop publishing and broadcasting any news relating to the armed groups.

In late August, Ganesh Kharel, editor and publisher of Janasaugat Weekly and a member of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), complained that, for over a week, he received continuous threats. The perpetrator, Baba Khan, an alleged member of the TNLA, warned the journalist that he would take physical action if the publication of the weekly in the Nepali language continued.

Four school teachers were implicated in an attack on 23 August. The group, led by Ishwor Anshu Magar, chairman of a local Annapurna school management committee, walked into the offices of Anamolmani Weekly and attacked journalists Milan Kumar Raut, Dipendra Timsina, Mohan Bhattarai and Rohit Ghimire, in connection with satirical material published during the Gaijatra festival. According to FNJ, Nepalese journalism tradition allows journalists to distribute satirical material once a year, in a special edition published during the festival.
Another attack perpetrated by a school official took place on 3 August. The dean of Dadeldhura Education College, Arjun Basnet, attacked Lokesh Saud, correspondent for the National News Agency (RSS) and co-editor of the Adarsha Weekly. Saud was manhandled by the dean for not having asked permission to enter the college's premises while gathering information relating to its educational activities.
Throughout August, members of the police illegally detained a total of 59 journalists on four different occasions. They also assaulted three photojournalists. On 14 August, photojournalist Sabin Tuladhar, with the Gorkhapatra Corporation, the government-owned publisher of the dailies Gorkhapatra and The Rising Nepal," Sundar Shrestha, with the national daily "Samacharpatra," and Sunil Pradhan, of the weekly Rajdhani, tried to take photos of protesting Tibetans in front of the Chinese embassy when they were attacked and heavily beaten by security personnel. The incident ended only when police inspectors Anupam Rana and Ramesh Thapa intervened. The victims were later informed that one of the policemen allegedly mistook Sunder for a protestor.

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