CPJ condemns harassment of journalists by Maoist rebels

New York, February 28, 2003—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns the recent harassment of two journalists by Maoist rebel forces in Nepal. In separate incidents, Maoist rebels have threatened journalists whose reporting criticized the “People’s War.”

In mid-February, reporters for the national newspaper Nepal Samacharpatra learned that their colleague Deepak Bahadur Thapa has been confined to his village, Thapsa Gaon, in the western district of Accham, for the last three months on the orders of local Maoist leaders who control the area. The Maoist leadership threatened Thapa, Accham-based correspondent for Nepal Samacharpatra, saying that he would be in danger if he attempted to leave the village, according to the newspaper’s editor, Kapil Kafle. The rebels have accused Thapa of writing against the People’s War, Kafle said.

On February 24, Rabin Prasad Thapalia, a young reporter who has contributed to the weekly newspaper Ruprekha, published from Nuwakot District, told journalists in the capital, Kathmandu, that he had received death threats from the Maoists. Thapalia showed journalists two letters he had received in response to an article he wrote for Ruprekha following a Maoist attack in Arghakhanchi District in September 2002. Thapalia’s article had focused on the widows of government security officers killed by the rebels.

The first letter—dated January 10, 2003, and signed by a Maoist leader named Rakshyak—complained to Thapalia that his article “termed us terrorists and praised the role of the army, the hired dogs of King Gyanendra,” according to a translation prepared by a CPJ source. The letter stated that Thapalia had one month to submit a detailed criticism of his article to the Maoists’ local headquarters and to issue a public apology. Otherwise, said the letter, “We will be compelled to give you safaya,” which means the death penalty.

Under pressure from relatives worried about his safety, Thapalia says he published an apology in Ruprekha, but then he received another letter from the Maoists at the end of January saying that the apology was inadequate. The second letter issued another ultimatum, giving Thapalia 15 days to comply with the order to criticize his article “word by word”—adding that, “We are still committed to giving you the death penalty if you fail to do so.”

Thapalia, who is studying journalism at a college in Kathmandu, has not responded to the second letter.

Nepal’s Maoist rebels have been fighting against government forces for seven years to topple the constitutional monarchy and form a people’s republic. Violence has escalated sharply since November 2001, when the government called out the army to crush the insurgency. However, the two sides announced a cease-fire on January 29, 2003, prompting hopes that the long-running conflict may be resolved peacefully.

According to CPJ research, the Maoists appear to be targeting journalists with greater frequency than in previous years. In 2002, they were responsible for three alarming attacks against journalists—including the April detention of Radio Nepal reporter Demling Lama, who was tortured and threatened in captivity; the murder of editor Nava Raj Sharma, whose body was discovered in June; and the August abduction of Radio Nepal journalist Dhan Bahadur Rokka Magar, who is still missing.

Government security forces, however, have also perpetrated many serious press freedom abuses, and more than 100 journalists have been detained since the crisis escalated in November 2001. At least 12 journalists are still imprisoned on suspicion of having connections to the Maoist rebel movement, though no evidence has been presented against them in a court of law.

The government has also never offered a satisfactory explanation for the fate of Krishna Sen, a pro-Maoist journalist arrested on May 20, 2002, who was reportedly killed in police custody. CPJ continues to demand an impartial and independent investigation to determine his fate.

“We are outraged by the harassment and threats that our colleagues in Nepal continue to endure,” said CPJ acting director Joel Simon. “Both government and rebel forces must respect the right of journalists to work freely and safely, without fear of reprisal.”