February 17, 2009
Rt. Honorable Prime Minister of Nepal, Pushpa Kamal Dahal
Office of the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers
Dear Prime Minister Dahal:
On December 29, your government signed an agreement with local press freedom group the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), ending a week of protest by journalists against a series of attacks on media outlets which peaked in late December. That agreement promised that those attacks would be addressed.
Yet nearly two months on, conditions for
journalists continue to deteriorate. Your government must urgently address the
climate of impunity for violence against journalists that threatens
Involvement by cadres of your Maoists' Unified Communist Party of Nepal or their supporters is suspected in the 2008
murder of Janadisha editor
and Maoist activist J.P. Joshi, who reported on local party disputes, and the
2007 killing of Birendra Shah in Bara district, central
Non-fatal but nonetheless gravely serious
attacks on the press are reported with alarming frequency by media outlets and local
press freedom groups throughout
Kathmandu-based newspapers are emphasizing the climate of fear building in the media community nationwide as reports of these attacks accumulate. "Things were never this bad for the Nepali media: not in the conflict years, not even during the royal emergency," according to Kailali district FNJ leader Dirgharaj Upadhyay in a recent Nepali Times editorial. "It was much easier to fight the ham-handed autocrat king," veteran journalist Kanak Mani Dixit wrote on My Republica, highlighting "an infrastructure of impunity and absence of accountability that is more entrenched than ever before."
When your government acknowledges these incidents, it denies involvement. Yet unpunished violence by Maoist sympathizers contributes to an environment in which acts of aggression against journalists--whether overtly politicized or otherwise--appear to be sanctioned by your leadership. Both the frequency and the methods used in attacks carried out by your supporters provide a model for those undertaken by other political and criminal groups. This seriously undermines the rule of law, and negates your public efforts to negotiate peace with militant groups in the Terai region. They, in turn, embrace the same tactics.
In public comments you all but dismissed
December's attack on the offices of the prominent publisher Himalmedia in
This week, a group of students followed that approach. "We could do anything against those writing and airing news against us," the students, who were not given a political affiliation in published reports, told staff at Tinau FM radio in Rupandehi district when they seized control of station offices for an hour on February 10, according to Kantipur Online. They had taken issue with a news item about a student charged with vandalism, according to Kantipur and the local branch of the Federation of Nepali Journalists. The same day, students also broke into the offices of Mechikali newspaper, where they burned 1,000 copies of the newspaper for carrying the same story, according to the reports.
"Five journalists around the country presently face credible death threats," Dixit wrote on February 2 for My Republica. His brother, Kunda Dixit, was among those targeted in the Himalmedia attack. On February 3, journalists in Saptari district in the Terai plains staged a protest against the local administration for failing to arrest an activist belonging to a local Terai armed group. Jitendra Khadka, a local correspondent for Kantipur Publications, said a person identifying himself as the activist had threatened to kill him over a report he had written about a clash between the group's supporters and local businessmen, but police did not follow up. Saptari journalists have since censored stories about armed groups, according to a My Republica report. "There [has] never been such widespread self-censorship here," according to the Republica report, published February 10 from Janakpur in the wake of Uma Singh's murder. "Panic-stricken women journalists in the region are starting to quit their profession," according to a Kantipur Online report on February 11.
Until your government takes the lead to instigate thorough investigations and prosecutions of attacks on journalists, anyone with a grievance against the media will be emboldened to terrorize news outlets and their staff. If the media succumbs to this intimidation, the country's attempts to establish democracy will have proven a failure.
Justices at the
Patan Appellate Court awarded 15,000 rupees (US$200) in compensation to
journalist Mina Tiwari Sharma on
February 10 after determining she was wrongfully
held in 2002 during the state of emergency declared by the former king of
Bringing justice to individual journalists who were imprisoned in the past is an appropriate way for your government to redress these wrongs. The same applies to present-day crimes against the press. Prosecute those who attack journalists, across the political and social spectrum, so that journalists who express the same objectivity today are not persecuted. We look forward to your reply.