Reporters Without Borders today reiterated its deep concern about journalists in southern Nepal, where intercommunal rioting continues. Journalists have been forced to flee their towns, some media have temporarily stopped publishing, and press personnel have been attacked.
Media workers have reacted with terror to the appearance of posters in public squares in the southern city of Birgunj with lists of “wanted” journalists for whose capture rewards are offered. The posters have prompted 11 journalists to flee the districts of Parsa, Bara and Rautat in fear of their lives.
The journalists who have been forced to flee their place of work are Govinda Devkota of Nepal Samacharpatra and Nepal FM 91.8, Kantipur reporters Sujeet Mahat, Shiva Puri and Shankar Aacharya, Sudeep Aryal of the Annapurna Post, Pawan Yadav of Radio Birgunj, Bipin Gautam of Radio Narayani, Ashok Pahadi of the Prateek Daily, Phani Mahat of Nepal Samacharpatra and freelancers Narayan Devkota and Sanjaya Karki.
Demonstrators damaged the motorcycle of radio Nepal FM 91.8 reporter Bikram Luitel on 30 January. Rioters attacked three journalists on the street in the southern district of Morang on 29 January. The same day, police beat a photographer working for local newspaper Satya Sandesh as he was taking pictures of the rioting.
Newspapers and magazines in Birgunj jointly decided to stop publishing from 29 January until today in protest against the orchestrated violence against the press. The press also disappeared from news stands in Bara district for two days.
The Federation of Nepalese Journalists, whose president, Bishnu Nisthuri, visited Birgunj, has asked the government to quickly provide protection for journalists and to arrest those responsible for the attacks. Police have arrested former monarchist ministers suspected of instigating rioting by members of the Madeshi ethnic group.
Violence against the press during intercommunal riots
Reporters Without Borders today condemned the physical attacks and threats against at least nine journalists and acts of vandalism against radio stations and newspapers that have taken place in the course of a week-old wave of rioting and violence between Nepal’s two major ethnic groups, the Pahadi and the Madhesi, in towns in the south of the country that have left at least six dead.
"These attacks are very worrying as they endanger the media’s coverage of a key issue for the country’s future," the press freedom organisation said. "The government must protect journalists during the rioting, so that they can work and move about safely. We also urge community organisations such as the Madhesi Jana Adhikar Forum (MJAF) to unequivocally condemn violence against the press."
During demonstrations organised by the MJAF on 28 January, radio FM Birgunj and the offices of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists were badly damaged by rioters in the southern town of Birgunj. Demonstrators also tried to ransack radio Narayani FM but were stopped by security guards. The station’s management decided to stop broadcasting for several hours for fear of reprisals.
Journalists Ram Sarraf, Dhruba Sah, Bhuwan Jha, Kiran Pande and Ram Bharat Sah were attacked during the demonstrations and death threats were made against Shiva Puri of the daily Kantipur.
Assailants attacked a newspaper distributor near Birgunj on 25 January. At the same time, Bheem Ghimire of Kantipur and Tank Khanal of the BBC World Service were roughed up and their motorcycles were damaged in the southeastern city of Biratnagar. Prior to that, Harinath Yadav, the correspondent of the weekly Jwarbhata, and radio Garima FM correspondent Shiva Kumar Shah were beaten by Maoists as they were covering a protest against the rebels on 21 January in the southern town of Lahan.
The MJAF has called for more protests against the interim government and against certain news media. It has issued a list of news media and journalists who, it claims, do not defend their cause. The correspondents of Nepal Television, Radio Nepal, Kantipur Publications and Nepal FM 91.8 in southern Nepal are on the list.
The editors of seven daily newspapers in the Birgunj region have issued a call for a strike beginning tomorrow in solidarity with the journalists who have been the victims of violence during the rioting. Media representatives say reporters and photographers can no longer cover events because they are perceived as government mouthpieces.