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Nepalese rights defender attacked, Maoist supporters suspected

(Freedom Forum/IFEX) - Freedom Forum expresses concern over the 28 February 2013 attack on rights defender Yadav Bastola in Surkhet, a hilly district in midwestern Nepal.

Bastola was attacked by four unidentified persons with rods over opinions he published in some local newspapers about human rights violations committed during the insurgency period.

"Two persons caught me and two others beat me heavily with rods, but somehow I managed to flee," Bastola said, adding that the attackers had said, "Are you not the human rights defender?!"

The attackers accused Bastola of digging out the issues of human rights violations under the insurgency period to corner the Maoist parties.

Based on these utterances, it is surmised that the attackers belonged to the Maoist parties – possibly to the ruling Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (UCPN-Maoist), or to its breakaway faction, the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-Maoist).

Maoist parties are currently on edge because of discussions of human rights violations carried out during the insurgency period and in which they were directly involved.

The incident is an indication of the Maoist parties' hostility towards human rights and the right to free expression. Freedom Forum condemns the attack which not only violated the right to freedom of expression, but was also an ill-attempt to hide the violations of the insurgency period. As long as such incidents continue, they will foster impunity and bode ill for the human rights situation in the country.

Authorities are urged to apprehend attackers and mete out punishment at the earliest. Similarly, the attackers- whether they are affiliated with the ruling Maoist party or of other political groups- must respect human rights and the right to freedom of expression. Finally, Freedom Forum wishes for a speedy recovery for the ailing right defender.

In a separate incident, some press vehicles were vandalized in the morning of 19 February 2013 while the media employees were in the process of distributing newspapers in the capital city, Kathmandu.

The organizers of a banda (general shutdown) - cadres of the CPN-Maoist - vandalized the vehicles belonging to Kantipur publication and Sagarmatha Television.

Such incidents sow fear among journalists which ultimately results in self-censorship at the detriment of professional journalism. Moreover, the incident impacted on the distribution of the newspapers and obstructed the delivery of timely information to the public. Freedom Forum condemns the incident and strongly urges the Maoist party to respect press freedom and the right to information.

Finally, Freedom Forum is concerned over the appointment of a Maoist party advisor to the Nepalese Press Council.

Yet again, the government has appointed its central advisor Borna Bahadur Karki as Chairperson of the Press Council, thereby politicizing the country's media-monitoring body.

An earlier decision by the government to appoint Avadesh Kumar Yadav was legally challenged and is under consideration in the court.

"The caretaker government which is outgoing very soon while the search for a new Prime Minister continues . . . the appointment of an active political lawyer [loyal to the ruling party] has cast doubt on the supposed advocacy for free and fair media in the country," said Freedom Forum Chairman Taranath Dahal.

Freedom Forum expresses grave concern over the appointment of Mr Karki, which would be detrimental to freedom of expression and against media independence.

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