Reporters Without Borders called today on Nepalese Prime Minister Surya Bahadur Thapa and the leader of the country’s Maoist rebels, Baburam Bhattarai, to end a two-month wave of murders, kidnappings and arrests unleashed on journalists by both sides in the conflict.
It expressed grave concern at the escalation of violence and threats against journalists and restrictions on press freedom since the Maoist Communist Party (CNP-M) ended a ceasefire on 27 August, as each side suspected the media of being agents of the other.
Gyanendra Khadka, of the government news agency Rastriya Samachar Samiti (RSS), was brutally murdered on 7 September by rebels who tied him to a post and publicly cut his throat in front of villagers in Jyamire, Sindhupalchowk district (northeast of Kathmandu), where he was also a teacher. Khadka, who was dragged from a classroom during a lesson, was well-known for his articles in national and local papers and for several years was the correspondent of the daily Nepal Samacharpatra, one of the country’s biggest newspapers, in the Melamchi valley.
Resham Birahi, national leader of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), was threatened on 28 August by rebels in Dhamboji Chowk, Nepalgunj (in the western district of Banke) after criticising the government-rebel fighting. The rebels told him the war would be a decisive one and that he could not write what he pleased about them.
In the southern town of Janakpur, journalists told the correspondent of Reporters Without Borders that they were under regular pressure from the rebels, who demanded greater coverage of their activities and also prevented news being sent out.
The security forces are also cracking down hard on journalists and briefly arrested 30 of them who demonstrated in Kathmandu on 11 September against the murder of Gyanendra Khadka. The protest was peaceful but police cited a recent ban on public demonstrations.
Subhashankar Kandel, editor of the weekly Jana Dharana and former correspondent of the Nepal Samacharpatra in the western district of Baglung, was kidnapped from his home on 9 September by a dozen men in civilian clothes. Kandel, who also works on a new privately-owned Kathmandu TV station, Image Metro Channel, was apparently suspected of rebel sympathies. His house was searched and all pro-communist literature taken away by security forces.
P.B Diyali, who works for the popular daily Blast Time in the eastern district of Sunsari and had been arrested several months ago, has been forced to flee to the capital.
Laxmi Ubhayay, Same Thapa and Chitra Chaudhary, journalists in Dhangadi (in the far western district of Kailali) suspected of Maoist sympathies, were threatened with arrest by security police, who forced them to flee to Kathmandu.
Ram Hari Chaulagain, of the weekly paper Sanghu, was kidnapped on 28 August in the New Baneswar suburb of Kathmandu by a group of people in civilian clothes who pushed him into a car near the paper’s offices. He is reportedly being held at the Hanuman Dhoka district police station in Kathmandu. The same day, Bal Kumar Khadka, of the weekly Khulla Pratispardha, was arrested and held for three days at a police station in the western district of Pokhara.
Security forces on 1 September arrested Nilkantha Tiwari, accused of being behind the monthly magazine Aikyabaddata. Tiwari, a former employee of the Nepal Telecommunications Corporation, had been briefly kidnapped a few days earlier.
His wife, journalist Mina Sharma, the magazine’s editor, was arrested on 24 May last year and tortured in detention while her husband was exiled in India and sought by Nepalese authorities. She was freed on 5 November. Her nephew and editorial assistant, Binod Tiwari, was arrested on 28 May 2002 and freed on 5 September last year.