Maoists kill one journalist, threaten nine others

New York, August 18, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is alarmed by the increasing violence against journalists by Maoist rebels, including the murder of radio journalist Dekendra Raj Thapa and the subsequent death threats made against at least nine other rural reporters earlier this week.

Rebels in midwestern Nepal’s Dailekh District claimed to have killed Thapa, a journalist for state-run Radio Nepal and head of a local drinking water project, on Monday, August 16. Following his murder, local rebel commanders told Thapa’s family that they intend to kill nine other journalists in neighboring districts, according to local news reports.

Maoists abducted Thapa on June 26, and a rebel commander said on August 16 that they had executed him on August 11, according to local news reports.

Maoist rebels posted leaflets in Thapa’s hometown in Dailekh yesterday, August 17, “charging” him with 10 counts of crimes against what the rebels refer to as their “people’s regime.” The rebels accused Thapa of acting as master of ceremony for a program welcoming King Gyanendra during his recent visit to the area; of corruption involving a community drinking-water project; and of spying for state security forces while using his profession as a cover.

CPJ is investigating whether his murder is related to his work as a journalist.

Thapa belonged to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ) and was an adviser to the local branch of Human Rights and Peace Society, a Nepalese human rights group. A delegation from FNJ met with Maoists in Dailekh to make appeals on Thapa’s behalf before the rebels say they killed him.

His remains have not been returned to his family, according to the local human rights group Informal Sector Service Center.

Following Thapa’s murder, Maoists issued death threats against at least nine other journalists, according to local sources. The regional journalists under threat include Harihar Singh Rathour in Dailekh District and Bed Prakash Timelsina, who had reported on Maoist atrocities in Achham District. Both of these journalists are stringers for Kathmandu-based Kantipur Daily and intend to flee to the capital, according to sources at that newspaper.

In recent weeks, rebels have stepped up attacks and threats against journalists who report critically on the Maoist movement. Two journalists recently fled their villages after local commanders threatened to cut off their hands. On July 31, rebels in Surkhet District kidnapped journalist and human rights worker Durga Thapa after he reported that Maoists were engaged in extortion of local businessmen. Maoists released Durga Thapa on Sunday, August 15.

Journalists took to the streets of Kathmandu today to protest the killing of Dekendra Raj Thapa, according to local news reports. Local journalists say that his murder and the recent death threats are intended to silence the press in the Maoist-controlled midwestern districts of Nepal.

Also this week, Maoist rebels blockaded road access to Kathmandu, disrupting the supply of food and other goods to the city. On August 16, rebels bombed a luxury hotel in the capital. Among their demands are the release of rebel detainees and an inquiry into recent killings by security forces.

In the conflict that has gripped Nepal since 1996, both state security forces and Maoist rebels have carried out attacks on journalists. Incidents have increased since the breakdown of the ceasefire in August 2003.