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RSF notes sharp fall in journalists' ability to work freely

(RSF/IFEX) - 18 August 2011 - Reporters Without Borders has noted an increase in threats and attacks against journalists since the start of the year in Nepal. After an apparent improvement in the situation in 2010, political instability and an increase in activity by several political parties and armed groups are threatening media freedom and the safety of journalists, especially in the districts.

"Some political leaders are providing political protection to people who are threatening and attacking journalists and media," Reporters Without Borders said. "This encourages a climate of impunity that is endangering all the achievements of previous months regarding press freedom."

The authorities have been unable to bring the Youth Force leader Parshuram Basnet to justice for allegedly masterminding the beating of the journalist Khilanath Dhakal in the southeastern city of Biratnagar. Basnet is a leading member of a youth group affiliated to the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), the party of Jhala Nath Khanal, who has just resigned as prime minister. Several members of the Morang District police, including a deputy superintendant, have been relieved from duty for helping Basnet and his accomplices escape.

"The Nepalese government must adopt measures to stop any collusion between officials and people who are wanted by the judicial authorities," Reporters Without Borders added, "The government must also protect journalists from the activities of politically-motivated groups."

Physical attacks

In one of the most recent cases of physical violence, Kishor Budhathoki, a journalist working for the Himalayan Times and the Annapurna Post, was brutally attacked at his home in the eastern district of Sankhuwasabha on 11 August by 10 armed men led by Vikas Rai, a notorious criminal in the region, police said.

Budhathoki was taken to Nobel Medical College hospital in Biratnagar with serious injuries to the head, legs and hands. Doctors described his condition as critical. The attack was prompted by a report on domestic violence carried by radio Khandbari FM, in which Budhathoki referred to Rai's violence against women.

Six teams consisting of members of the regular police and the Armed Police Force (APF) are reportedly looking for Budhathoki's assailants, who are still at large. Sankhuwasabha Chief District Officer Kailashnath Kharel said: "All the political parties in the district have expressed willingness to help the administration to arrest the attackers."

Manoj Ghimire, a journalist with the national daily Rajdhani, was manhandled by police inspector Hari Bashyal while trying to cover a sports event on 6 August in Kathmandu. Security officials then prevented him from entering the sports stadium.

Fourteen journalists were roughed up by employees of the Aaptari road toll during an informal meeting at a police station in south-central Chitwan district on 19 June, when the employees became angered by questions about their levying illegal supplementary tolls. They later apologized to the journalists.

An unidentified group threw Bimal Hamal and Suman Malla, journalists based in the mid-western Himalayan District of Mugu, off a cliff on 2 June. On the same day, Rajendra Awasthi, the executive editor of the local daily Angel Times, was injured in an attack by three unidentified gang members in the far-western city of Mahendranagar.

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