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RSF expresses concern over growing threats, violence against journalists

(RSF/IFEX) - RSF has expressed concern over increasing violence against journalists and media outlets in Nepal and voiced fears that the growing insecurity will prevent free and proper reporting of events in the country.

The organisation declared its support for the Federation of Nepalese Journalists' (FNJ) efforts to obtain the release of three journalists held by the authorities and two others kidnapped by Maoist rebels, and repeated its call for the rebels to guarantee press freedom in the regions they control.

On 1 September 2004, following the execution of 12 Nepali hostages in Iraq, demonstrators assaulted journalists and set fire to the offices of several media outlets in Kathmandu, including those of the Kantipur and Space Time news groups. At least five Kantipur employees were hit by the demonstrators. Despite media appeals, police did not intervene. A dozen journalists, including Minal Pandey, of the Nepal 1 TV station, and Kiran Pandey, of the bi-weekly magazine "Himal Khabarpatrika", were attacked while reporting on the disturbances. RSF called on Interior Minister Purna Bahadur Khadka to explain why police failed to protect media offices and journalists during the Kathmandu protests.

The organisation has also renewed its call for the government to release Raju Kshetri and Maheshwar Pahari, of the weekly "Rashtriya Swabhiman", and Jeetman Basnet, of the monthly "Sagarmatha Times". The journalists are reportedly being held in poor conditions. The Supreme Court has ordered the release of Pahari and Basnet.

RSF has regularly deplored attacks on journalists and the obstruction of their work by rebel and security forces in recent years. Rebel leader Pushpan Kamal Dahal ("Comrade Prachanda") and Nepalese King Gyanendra have both been placed on the organisation's worldwide list of "predators of press freedom."

Maoist rebels, heavily criticised after the 11 August execution of Radio Nepal reporter Dekendra Raj Thapa, continue to intimidate and threaten journalists in rural areas. Bijay Mishra, a reporter for the daily "Kantipur" in the eastern district of Siraha, received a death threat on 2 September from a rebel officer known as "Bibek". The officer threatened him with "the same fate as Dekendra Raj Thapa." The Maoists accuse Mishra of failing to report on their activities in his newspaper. Baikuntha Dahal, a freelance journalist in the eastern district of Udaypur, has been receiving death threats from the Maoists for several weeks, most notably in their clandestine radio broadcasts, because of his alleged support for the armed forces. Anup Gurung, of the local weekly "Purva Mechi", was detained on 29 August in the eastern district of Ilam. Rebels forced him to join the "people's divisions" as punishment for not reporting favourably on their activities in the region. He was forced to work as a porter but managed to escape. Finally, journalist Durga Thapa was held for more than two weeks in August in eastern Nepal.

According to RSF, Maoist rebels have reportedly committed serious press freedom violations on at least a dozen occasions this year, including murders, kidnappings and death threats.

The rebels have announced the murder of Badri Khadka, who was alleged to be a correspondent for the banned pro-Maoist weekly "Janadesh" in the eastern districts of Mechi and Koshi. Khadka was reportedly killed by security forces on 29 August in Govindapur, Morang district, after being arrested and tortured. Local journalists said his body had been mutilated. The security forces have not confirmed his death.

RSF has been unable to confirm reports that Khadka, aged 27, worked for "Janadesh". The weekly has only been available online since it ceased appearing in print form in August 2003. The organisation considers "Janadesh"'s editorial support for the Community Party of Nepal's armed rebellion to be a serious violation of journalistic ethics, and has condemned the paper's calls for violence.

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