Reporters Without Borders said today it was deeply concerned about a wave of attacks on the media, condemning the impunity with which Maoist militants operate, two days after the offices of press group Himal Media in Kathmandu were ransacked.
“The prime minister, Prachanda, should keep his promise and launch an investigation to ensure the guilty are punished. Threats and assaults against the media are escalating,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said.
Militants of the Youth Force (YF), affiliated to the ruling Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist (CPN-UML), raided and ransacked the offices of the newspaper, Ankush, in the city of Birjgunj, on the country’s eastern border on 23 December, and burned 2,500 copies of the newspaper.
Editor of Ankush, Bijaya Bhandari, said the YF members had complained that “the paper referred to their parties’ two acronyms without distinguishing between them”. It was the second attack on the paper this year after the premises were vandalised on 29 August 2008.
Elsewhere, the local Kantipur Daily carried an article on 22 December in which the president of the dreaded Young Communist League (YCL) in Bhaktapur district, east of the Kathmandu Valley, affiliated to the Maoist Party, warned that its members “now intended to target publications based in Bhaktapur".
Members of the All Nepal Communications, Printing and Publications Workers Union (ANCPPWU), affiliated to the Maoists, also threatened employees of a company that distributes several publications in Nepal, the ACPA. The company chiefly distributes the big-selling dailies, The Himalayan Times and the Annapurna Post. This came after the Post made a complaint about the ANCPPWU before the Supreme Court, calling it a “fraudulent organisation”.
By way of riposte, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) organised a demonstration on 23 December to protest against constant attacks suffered by privately-owned media.
The Media Society and Editors Alliance said in a statement, “We see the different attacks against the media as a serious threat to press freedom, democracy and pluralism in the country. It is ironic that these attacks should be carried out by groups affiliated to a party that won elections and heads the government”.
Editors of the leading privately-owned media have launched a protest campaign in their publications with some newspapers, for example, carrying a blank page in place of an editorial.
Reporters Without Borders pointed out that, “Protection of press freedom, guaranteed by the new constitution, is a key element in ensuring the establishment of a democracy worthy of the name in the country.”
Maoist activists attack newspaper group again
Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by a new attack by supporters of the ruling Maoist party yesterday on the offices of the Himal Media press group in Kathmandu. And when the Federation of Nepalese Journalists today staged a protest against the attack, police used violence to disperse them, injuring around a dozen journalists.
“We urge the government to take particular care to safeguard press freedom,” Reporters Without Borders said. “After the recent wave of attacks on the media, the Maoist party took no steps to punish those responsible. The government must guarantee the right of every voice to be heard by punishing violators and by not allowing its supporters to act with the impunity.”
Around 50 Maoist party supporters took part in yesterday’s attack on Himal Media, ransacking its offices and injuring CEO Ashutosh Tiwari and Kunda Dixit, the editor of one of its publications, the English-language Nepali Times.
The raid appears to have been prompted by an article in the Nepali Times and in another of the group’s publications, the Nepalese-language fortnightly, Himal Khabapatrika, accusing certain Maoist party activists of “extremist behaviour,” interfering in business interests and threatening the media.
A member of the Himal Media staff said the assailants stormed into the group’s premises, hitting employees and warning that “anything could happen if one of the group’s newspapers published anti-Maoist reports again.”
Dixit said: “These people appeared to be martial arts experts, they had military training. It was an attack not just on Himal Media but on democracy and the media in particular, which the Maoists are doing everything possible to control.”
Maoist activists previously attacked Himal Media distribution depots in the capital on 16 November, vandalising equipment and torching more than 1,000 copies of Himal Khabapatrika in the street outside.
Nepal’s Maoist prime minister, Pushpa Kamal Dahal (also known as “Prachanda”), today promised a delegation of civil society leaders that yesterday’s attack would be investigated and those responsible would be punished.
One of the delegation’s leaders, former finance minister Devendra Raj Pandey, told Reporters Without Borders that the prime minister insisted that it was not Maoist policy to attack the media and that “immoral agents” had “infiltrated” the party. The prime minister expressed sadness about the incident and urged public opinion to help combat the “infiltrators.”
Nepal News video showing the damage to Himal Media’s offices and an interview with Kunda Dixit: