Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) today voiced its outrage at the brutal murder by Maoist rebels of journalist Nawaraj "Basant" Sharma, the editor of Karnali Sandesh, an independent publication in western Nepal.
The organisation called on the Maoist insurrection’s political and military leaders to immediately halt its violence against journalists. At the same time, it urged the authorities to ensure that those responsible do not go unpunished.
"After abducting Radio Nepal news presenter Dhana Bahadur Rokka Magar less than a month ago, the Maoist rebels have now targeted the editor of the only independent publication in the most isolated part of western Nepal", Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said. "By unleashing this violence against journalists, the Maoists have given further evidence of their radical opposition to pluralism of opinions."
On 13 August 2002, Sharma’s mutilated body was found near the village of Suna (Karnali province, western Nepal). His killers, identified as Maoist rebels, had cut off his limbs, ripped out his eyes, and then finished him off with a bullet to the chest. According to a local journalist questioned by Reporters Without Borders, the editor was abducted from his home in the district of Kalikot by armed men on 1st June 2002.
Since then, the Maoist rebels have threatened the journalist’s family members, preventing them from going to Kathmandu to receive the government aid normally accorded to the close relatives of the Maoists’ victims. Sharma’s newspaper, Karnali Sandesh (The Message of Karnali, created in 1999) was the only independent weekly in the far west, Nepal’s most disadvantaged region.
Sharma was also president of the local branch of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) and director of Kalikot school. Sharma had already been kidnapped in February 2002 by a Maoist group, and was held for nearly three months. After his release in May, he was questioned for five days by the security forces, who suspected him of being a Maoist "spy".
In its report on the situation of press freedom in Nepal, published in March 2002, Reporters Without Borders wrote that: "The situation has changed with the proclamation of a state of emergency and the Maoists, who have executed dozens of ruling Congress Party members since 1996 and who executed a human rights activist more recently, could be tempted to turn against journalists accused of collaborating with the government, especially provincial correspondents."