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The Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) and other IFEX members, as well as the United Nations human rights office in Nepal, have condemned the brutal murder of a journalist and women's rights activist, as well as death threats made against another woman reporter in the Terai region of southern Nepal.

Uma Singh, a reporter at Radio Today FM and the daily paper "Janakpur Today", and member of Women's Human Rights Defenders in Dhanusha, was attacked on 11 January by a gang of around 15 unidentified men armed with "khukhuris" - curved knives traditional to Nepal.

According to Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the men burst into the room she rented in Janakpur, in the southern district of Dhanusha, and stabbed her repeatedly in front of other tenants. She died while being transferred to a hospital in Kathmandu.

FNJ is sending a team to Janakpur to investigate the killing. Dharmendra Jha, president of FNJ and a former professor of Singh's, said he was shocked.

Police have so far not identified any motive for the killing. Some of Singh's articles made waves in the region, particularly those in which she criticised the caste and dowry system. According to the International Press Institute (IPI), she was vocal in condemning ongoing violence in the Terai region, where armed groups have been fighting for the establishment of an autonomous Madhesi state and greater rights for the Madhesi people, the dominant ethnic population of Terai.

IFEX members and the UN Nepal office also pressed the authorities to investigate after an unidentified group broke the windows of the house in Janakpur of Manika Jha, news correspondent of the daily "Kantipur", that same evening. They marked a cross on her door and told her she would "be next." She now has police protection at her home.

According to news reports, women journalists in Dhanusha demanded official protection in October 2008, claiming dozens had been forced to quit after threats from armed groups.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said the 11 January attacks come just weeks after Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal publicly reaffirmed the government's commitment to protecting the press following an escalation of violent attacks on the media. After assailants struck the offices of the Himalmedia publishing company in December, many newspapers published blank pages in protest.

CPJ says the local news website Republica reported that police have arrested four people in connection with Singh's murder. A local political group had claimed responsibility for the slaying, saying it was committed "mistakenly." Other news outlets said the motive was still unknown.

Funeral services were held 13 January in Janakpur with many journalists attending, says IPI. Commerce and public transportation in Janakpur were disrupted for two days to protest the killing. Nepalese journalists also held a national demonstration to urge the government to provide them with protection.

"It is a big problem working in the Terai region," Singh told the UN Mission in Nepal during an interview last year, which is available on YouTube. "Society doesn't accept (women) with equal perspectives. They say the work we have been doing is not good." She also described pressures from local organisations and armed groups. "If we don't air the news of their choice, they threaten us with killing," she said. But, she said, she and her colleagues did not bow to their orders. "We also have to balance our news."

Visit these links:
- FNJ:
- CPJ:
- IFJ:
- IPI:
- RSF:
- UN:
- YouTube:
(Photo of Uma Singh, courtesy of IPI)

(14 January 2009)

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