Letters   |   Nepal

In Nepal, concerns raised over Maoist actions 

October 3, 2007

Dr. Baburam Bhattarai
Deputy Leader
Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist
Buddhanagar, Kathmandu
Nepal

Via facsimile: +977-1-4784045

Dear Dr. Bhattarai:

The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned by the use of violence and intimidation by members of Maoist-affiliated organizations to disrupt the circulation of newspapers produced by Kantipur Publications, Nepal's largest private news company. Shalik Ram Jamkattel, a Maoist parliamentarian and chairman of the powerful All Nepal Trade Union Federation, has also issued a public threat to forcibly shut down Kantipur Television within days if the group's demands are not met.

As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues around the world, CPJ upholds the right of all media workers to engage in collective bargaining and carry out peaceful protests to safeguard their interests. However, CPJ maintains that such political activities must be non-violent. The strong-arm tactics used by Maoist party cadres against Kantipur management, employees, distributors, and newspaper vendors are criminal activities. The Maoist leadership is responsible for the actions of party cadres and should take appropriate disciplinary measures against members who harass, threaten, and assault journalists and media workers.

We respectfully remind you of the commitments made by the CPN-Maoist to uphold press freedom guarantees, including those in the Comprehensive Peace Agreement and in the interim constitution. Nepalese journalists have told CPJ that the attacks on Kantipur are perceived as an assault by the Maoist party on the free press as an institution in Nepal.

Negotiations between the Maoist-affiliated trade unions and Kantipur Publications collapsed unexpectedly when the All Nepal Communication, Printing, and Publication Workers' Union issued a September 25 ultimatum for its demands to be met, according to local news reports. The union launched protest activities on September 26 by stopping the collection and publication of advertisements in Kantipur newspapers. Union members allegedly threatened Kantipur staff not to publish any advertisements, with the result that no ads appeared in the next day's edition of the Nepali-language daily Kantipur and its English-language sister paper The Kathmandu Post.

On September 28, the national editions of the two papers could not be published from the main printing center in Kathmandu due to further threats and intimidation from Maoist union members, according to a Kantipur editor.

On September 30, a group of about two dozen members of the All Nepal Communication, Printing, and Publication Workers Union locked the main entrance of Kantipur complex in Kathmandu from the inside, attempted to set the buildings on fire by burning tires and newspapers, assaulted Kantipur Publications Managing Director Kailash Sirohiya, and vandalized his vehicle, according to reports by Kantipur Online and the Federation of Nepali Journalists. Later that night, members of the same group vandalized two of Kantipur's printing presses, effectively preventing the newspapers' publication from Kathmandu. The papers were published from Kantipur's two other regional centers in the nearby city of Bharatpur and the eastern town of Biratnagar.

On Monday, members of the Maoists' Young Communist League confiscated thousands of copies of the newspapers from the resort city of Pokhara, seizing thousands of copies directly from the local office of Kantipur Publications and from newsstands and street vendors, according to local news sources. The same day, a group of Maoist trade union activists and Young Communist League members forced all employees out of the company's Bharatpur office and threatened to kill them if they published the newspapers. As a result of the threats, the Bharatpur editions of both dailies did not appear on October 2.   

Also on Monday, Maoist lawmaker Shalik Ram Jamkattel made a series of threatening remarks while addressing a protest meeting outside the Kantipur complex in Kathmandu. He threatened Kantipur management officials and journalists with physical reprisals, identifying many of them by name, and warning that members of his All Nepal Trade Union Federation would move to shut down Kantipur Television within four days. "The Nepali people will not die without the information carried by Kantipur daily," he said, according to The Kathmandu Post. "We do not need its information. We do not need its journalists either."

On Tuesday, members of the All Nepal Trade Union Federation threatened to bomb Kantipur's Bharatpur office and printing press, according to Kantipur Online. That same day, a group of Young Communist League cadres entered Kantipur's Biratnagar printing press offices and warned the staff not to publish the newspapers.

Today, the Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Transport Workers Union announced that its members would not carry and dispatch Kantipur newspapers and threatened arson attacks against anyone who attempted to do so, according to local news sources. "I urge my friends not to carry [the newspapers]. I urge them to burn them," Jagat Simkhada, president of transportation union said, according to the Web site Nepalnews.

If the Maoist leadership is indeed committed to respecting press freedom, you and other party officials will make strong public statements condemning the use of violence and intimidation by members of Maoist-affiliated groups and take steps to dismiss or otherwise discipline party cadres who are responsible for such criminal activities. CPJ is disturbed by comments attributed to you today warning of reprisals against those who suggest that the Maoist party bears responsibility for the actions of its members. "If attempts are made to involve our party in the Kantipur case unnecessarily, we will be forced to retaliate," you were quoted as saying, according to the Kantipur Online news site.

We urge you to reconsider these remarks and take concrete steps to uphold the Maoist party's stated pledges to uphold press freedom.

Sincerely,

Joel Simon
Executive Director


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