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Plans for new constitution trigger attacks on media

Kathmandu, 20 May 2012: A motorcycle owned by a local journalist is set on fire by protesters during the three-day general strike called by the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities
Kathmandu, 20 May 2012: A motorcycle owned by a local journalist is set on fire by protesters during the three-day general strike called by the Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities

Navesh Chitrakar/REUTERS

Ethnic and religious groups hoping to get their demands reflected in the new constitution have been repeatedly attacking journalists who might stand in their way, report the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Freedom Forum and Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

As the 27 May deadline to draft the constitution nears, various groups have held rolling strikes across the country demanding that state borders proposed in the new constitution be determined on the basis of ethnic groups.

According to RSF, around 50 journalists have been attacked in the past two weeks by demonstrators pressuring them to write pro-protest reports.

Tekendra Deuba, a reporter with the "Annapurnapost" daily from Doti, told Freedom Forum, "We are facing hard times because of the pressure by the demonstrators to write in their favour. The demonstrators have begun chanting slogans against media and journalists."

He added that journalists are frightened and not able to move about freely to cover the news because of the security threat.

Newspaper distribution has been disrupted in the regions with the most tension, especially in the west, says RSF.

In one of the more serious incidents, journalists were targeted by protesters on Sunday, the first day of a three-day general strike called by Nepal Federation of Indigenous Nationalities (NEFIN). According to Freedom Forum, dozens of journalists across the country were attacked and their motorcycles and vans torched or damaged, on what the press freedom group called a "black day" for journalists.

In a note to FNJ dated 13 May, NEFIN accused the media of opposing a federal system and threatened to boycott media that covered the proposal negatively.

According to RSF, NEFIN general secretary Ang Kaji Sherpa warned that he would disperse media demonstrations and would "finish off" journalists if they dared to stage a counter-offensive. "We have heard that FNJ is organising a protest rally against our strike," he said. "If it happens then we would not spare the journalists."

The government, which has started negotiations with ethnic and religious groups, has condemned the attacks on the media and has urged protesters to calm down, reports FNJ.

The IFEX members have also denounced the attacks, saying they deprived people of their right to information and violated journalists' rights.

FNJ is demanding the government ensure the protection of journalists and provide compensation to those who were injured or whose property was damaged.

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