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Nepalese reporters threatened by political party supporters

(Freedom Forum/IFEX) - Freedom Forum is concerned over a press freedom violation that occurred in Okhaldhunga, a hilly district in the eastern region of Nepal on December 22, 2012.

Jivan Sharma, district reporter with the Annapurna Post daily, was initially threatened with physical consequences by Dipak Phuyal, District Chairperson of the All Nepal National Free Student Union, a student wing of the Communist Party of Nepal - Unified Marxist-Leninist (CPN-UML). The threat was related to a news story entitled "Extortion of students by threatening teachers" which was published in the daily on December 20.

Talking to Freedom Forum's media monitoring desk, Sharma said, "In addition on the night of December 23, an unidentified person threatened me saying: I will finish you within a day despite the security [measures] you have demanded from the administration."

According to the journalist, the threatening call was received from a mobile phone, and the number was documented. Sharma explained that he wrote the news story based on the views of the extorted students.

After the District Police Office (DPO) and the District Administration Office were apprised of the situation, the DPO provided security to the reporter. This is a laudable initiative on the part of the security forces and administration. Nevertheless, Freedom Forum strongly urges the CPN-UML to teach its cadres the value of a free press and urge them to respect citizens' right to information.

Journalist threatened by CPN-Maoist supporter

In a separate incident, on January 1, 2013, Pratap Jaishee, a cadre of the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), threatened Harihar Singh Rathaur, a reporter with Kantipur daily based in Jajarkot, a mountainous district in midwestern Nepal. The threat was connected to one of the reporter's articles about forest encroachment in the district.

On January 2, Rathaur told Freedom Forum's Media Monitoring Desk, "CPN-Maoist cadre Jaishee threatened me with an attack, because I had reported on their illegal activities."

According to Rathaur, the story referred to the party cadres' raising of huts in the area and their encroachment on forest lands.

This is a blatant violation of press freedom, journalists' right to report and citizens' right to information. Freedom Forum condemns the incident and urges the concerned authority to fend off any untoward incident. Also, the Maoist party needs to teach its cadres about the value of media freedom which is essential to the development of a democratic state.

Radio Nepal questioned after airing opposition member's views

Finally, Freedom Forum was informed that the government made an ill-attempt to gag freedom of expression by seeking clarification from Radio Nepal, a state-run media outlet. Radio Nepal was questioned after it presented the views of a leader of the opposition party in a talk program on December 31, 2012.

Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai, who is also the Vice-Chairman of the ruling Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), himself questioned the line Ministry why such a program was aired by Radio Nepal.

The Executive Director of Radio Nepal, Suresh Karki, and program presenter Pramod Dahal were subsequently grilled by the Government Secretary.

"The government's act to seek clarification with the media over the free expression of an individual is a gross violation of freedom of speech and freedom of expression which the constitution has fully guaranteed," said Taranath Dahal, Chairperson of Freedom Forum.

According to Dahal, the government led by the Maoist party is time and again panicking journalists and media houses and suppressing citizens' right to freedom of expression and media freedom. PM Bhattarai's efforts are an authoritarian attempt to keep the media always under control which does not suit a democratic culture, he added. Moreover, the PM's move to suppress the opposition's views is reminiscent of an autocratic system.

Freedom Forum notes that in the previous year the same government had grilled Nepal Television and demoted its General Managar Deepak Mani Dhital for screening a program featuring opposition parties.

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