The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is deeply concerned about the detentions of three journalists in western Nepal: Dhaniram Tharu and Maheshwar Pahari, who have been missing for several months; and Khadga Bahadur Swar, known as K.B. Jumli, whom local authorities arrested on April 4.
CPJ believes that they may have been detained in connection with their reporting on the Maoist rebel insurgency.
According to local sources, Dhaniram Tharu, an anchor, producer, and director of local-language programs for Swargadwari FM, was arrested on March 13 by Nepalese security forces, along with several of his coworkers, in Nepalgunj, a town near Nepal's southwestern border. Swargadwari is a community radio station based in neighboring Dang District, a conflict-ridden area under control of Maoist insurgents. The station has won praise from Nepalese journalists for its independent reporting, despite its sensitive location.
Tharu's colleagues were released the day after their arrest, but Tharu's whereabouts are unknown, and no group has claimed responsibility for holding the journalist.
Local sources told CPJ they fear that Tharu may have been targeted for his journalistic work. According to the Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC), a local human rights organization, Tharu maintained close contacts with the Maoist rebel movement and frequently reported from remote rural areas where the rebels are assumed to be based. Based on interviews with detainees who have since been released, INSEC believes that security forces may have detained Tharu to question him about the Maoists, sources said.
According to INSEC, security forces also suspect Tharu of helping local bonded laborers publish and distribute pamphlets exposing their situation. Members of the local caste, known as Tharus, have historically been a disadvantaged group in Nepal, especially in rural areas where Tharu families have long worked as indentured laborers. (It is common in this area of Asia for people to have the same last name as the name of their caste.)
Maheshwar Pahari, a regular contributor to the local pro-Maoist weekly Rastriya Swabhiman (National Pride), was detained by unidentified individuals on January 2 in the village of Khorako Mukh, in the district of Kaski, in western Nepal. It is unclear where Pahari is being held, and his relatives reported to the Red Cross and the Nepalese Human Rights Commission that he "disappeared," according to Amnesty International.
Local sources told CPJ that Pahari may have been detained in connection with his journalistic work. While Rastriya Swabhiman stopped publishing in August 2003 after the Maoist cease-fire was broken, journalists from the paper continue to publish online and often criticize government security forces, sources said.
Pahari also maintained close contacts within the Maoist movement, and sources told CPJ that security forces may have detained Pahari to gather intelligence about the rebel leadership, which has been in hiding since the cease-fire was broken.
In addition, CPJ is troubled by the continued detention of Khadga Bahadur Swar, known as K.B. Jumli. On April 4, local authorities in the western Jumla District arrested Jumli, a correspondent for the private Nepali-language daily Nepal Samacharpatra, which is based in the capital, Kathmandu.
According to local sources, the Jumla District local administration office accused Jumli of being involved in Maoist activities and ordered him imprisoned for 90 days under the Terrorist and Destructive Activities (Control and Punishment) Act, known as TADA. Under TADA, any organization or individuals who support the Communist Part of Nepal-Maoist (CPN-M) and its activities are considered terrorists, and individuals can be detained without trial for renewable periods of up to 90 days on suspicion of planning "terrorist" acts.
Local sources told CPJ they believe that Jumli's detention is linked to his journalistic work. His reports often criticized the local administration and the Nepalese security forces, and he maintained close contact with Maoist sources for his reports.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to defending our colleagues worldwide, CPJ urges Your Majesty to conduct a thorough investigation into the whereabouts of Dhaniram Tharu and Maheshwar Pahari, and to make the findings from the investigation public. If Tharu and Pahari are being held by government security forces, CPJ requests that their detention and all formal charges against them be made public.
Furthermore, CPJ calls on Your Majesty to ensure that all formal charges against K.B. Jumli are made public in a timely manner. If Jumli is charged with a crime, then he is entitled to a fair trial.
While CPJ is aware of the fragile security situation in Nepal, we believe that journalists should not be imprisoned for their work or be forced to reveal their sources. We protest the broad powers afforded to security forces by legislation such as TADA, which was passed after Your Majesty declared a state of emergency in November 2001.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. We await your response.