Maoist rebels attack journalists

New York, August 9, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is troubled by the continuing deterioration of press freedom conditions in Nepal, marked by several recent threats and attacks on journalists covering the Maoist rebel insurgency in the western part of the country.

On July 31, Maoist rebels abducted a local journalist and human rights worker. Rebels also threatened two other journalists with dismemberment, forcing them to flee their villages on August 3, according to local news reports and human rights’ groups. All three journalists had been reporting on the rebels’ practices of extorting money from local businesses and workers in districts where Maoists have a stronghold.

Durga Thapa, an employee of the local human rights organization Informal Sector Service Center (INSEC) and a local correspondent for the Kathmandu-based daily Nepal Samacharpatra, remains captive in a labor camp since his abduction on July 31. Rebels seized him after they met with a delegation of human rights activists and journalists, including Thapa, in the Surkhet District in mid-western Nepal. The group had traveled to the district to inquire about a string of recent abductions. The Maoists stated that they intend to hold Thapa for 25 days on charges of acting “against the people’s government,” according to local media sources.

In the beginning of July, rebels warned Thapa to stop reporting cases of extortion, according to CPJ sources and local media organizations.

Two other journalists who had been reporting on the same topic have fled their homes in the remote western Dailekh District after Maoists threatened to cut their hands off, according to local news reports. Bhupendra Sahi of the state-owned Gorkha Patra daily newspaper and Kamal Kumar Neupane of Rajdhani daily had conducted reporting on local Maoists who were demanding steep levies from rural businessmen.

Nepalese journalists have faced increasing pressure, threats, and manipulation from both security forces and Maoists since the collapse of the cease-fire agreement last August. According to CPJ research, journalists in the rural areas of the conflict are at particular risk.

“We are gravely concerned about the increase in threats and incidents of violent reprisal against our colleagues in western Nepal,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We call on Maoist leaders to uphold their stated commitment to Article 3 of the Geneva Convention, which bars taking hostages, and to take measures to prevent abuse at the hands of rebels in Maoist-controlled regions.”