Press offices attacked in riots sparked by killings in Iraq

New York, September 1, 2004—The Committee to Protect Journalists deplores today’s attacks on newspaper and television offices in Nepal’s capital, Kathmandu, during violent protests that followed the slayings of 12 Nepalese contract workers by militants in Iraq.

At mid-day, crowds set fire to vans and motorcycles and wrecked equipment inside the premises of English-language Kantipur Publications and the affiliated Kantipur Television, according to another affiliate, Kantipur Online. Mobs also destroyed vehicles, cameras and computers at the offices of Space Time Network and Channel Nepal, according to local journalists.

Protesters accused the government of not doing enough to secure the release of the 12 workers, who had been held hostage for nearly two weeks, according to international news reports. Some shouted for revenge as they attacked sites connected to Muslims, who constitute about 4 percent of Nepal’s population.

Kantipur Online reported that police ignored the news agency’s repeated calls for assistance. A source at Kantipur Publications told CPJ that several journalists there were injured, and speculated the attack was related to its reports defending the Nepalese Muslim minority.

At Channel Nepal, a CPJ source suggested the group might have targeted the news offices because the channel’s owner, Jamim Shah, is Muslim.

“CPJ condemns the violent and unprovoked attack on news agencies in Kathmandu,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on authorities to ensure the protection of news facilities and journalists at this volatile moment.”

Demanding revenge for the killings, thousands of demonstrators also attacked the capital’s only mosque today, breaking windows and setting fire to carpets. One protester died as a result of wounds received during the rioting, according to international news reports.

The violence came a day after a video was released showing Iraqi militants slitting the neck of one Nepalese worker and shooting 11 others. The 12 contract workers disappeared soon after entering Iraq from Jordan on Aug. 19.

A curfew has been imposed on the city, and Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba has called for restraint as the nation mourns the murdered Nepalis.