Journalist abducted and TV tower attacked

New York, May 18, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned about the safety of reporter Som Sharma, who was abducted from his residence in the eastern district of Ilam late last week. The abduction is one of several serious attacks on the press in recent days by both Maoist rebels and the government.

Armed men thought to be Maoist rebels led Sharma, a reporter for the weekly newspaper Aankha, from his home on May 13, according to local news reports and human rights activists. The reason for the abduction has not been disclosed, and the Maoists have made no statement confirming involvement. Sharma has reported on rebel activities in the area and may have been targeted for interrogation or retaliation. He has also participated in rallies to reopen schools that have been closed in response to Maoist pressure, local sources told the human rights organization INSEC.

“Journalists have been mistreated and even executed at the hands of the Maoists. If rebels have abducted our colleague Som Sharma, as the initial evidence suggests, they have once again shown their utter disdain for the lives and safety of journalists,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on the kidnappers to release Sharma immediately.”

Rebels today bombed the state-owned Nepal Television tower in the western district of Palpa, according to local and international news reports. No one was hurt, but broadcasts of Nepal Television in the region have been disrupted, according to the online version of the daily Kantipur and The Associated Press. The state television station had been condemning the rebels, who have a strong presence in the western rural districts of Nepal.

Maoists have fought since 1996 to topple the monarchy in a civil conflict that has claimed more than 11,000 lives. Rural journalists, in particular, are at risk from both Maoists and security forces.

Poor conditions for journalists were exacerbated when King Gyanendra seized power from the multi-party government, declared a state of emergency, and suspended civil liberties on February 1. Though the state of emergency has since been lifted, reporters tell CPJ that government harassment and restrictions on the media have not abated.

Kanak Mani Dixit, publisher of the magazine Himal Khabarpatrika, was ordered to report to local government officials in the suburban district of Lalitpur near the capital, Kathmandu, today for questioning. Officials demanded a written explanation of an article by Dixit that called for a constitutional monarchy.

Several journalists told CPJ that authorities have not restored their mobile phone service since it was cut off on February 1. Though cell phone service resumed for most citizens in early May, a handful of prominent journalists—including Guna Raj Luitel of Kantipur, Yubaraj Ghimire of Samay, and former Federation of Nepalese Journalists president Tara Nath Dahal—told CPJ that the government has denied them service without explanation.

“Rebel violence does not justify the government’s continued harassment of the press,” Cooper said.