Journalist freed two months after abduction by Maoists

New York, July 11, 2005—Maoist rebels on Saturday released Som Sharma, a reporter in eastern Nepal’s Ilam district who was abducted from his home nearly two months ago. Maoist leaders also called off the house arrest of Ilam-based reporter Umesh Gurung, calling their actions against him a “mistake,” according to local news reports

Sharma, a reporter for the weekly Aankha, had been in Maoist custody since May 13. Sharma’s release followed negotiations on his behalf by the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), who sent a delegation to meet with local Maoist leaders. FNJ central committee member Purna Basnet told The Associated Press that Sharma was targeted in response to his critical reporting on Maoist activities in the area.

Maoists also told FNJ representatives during their meetings that actions taken against Umesh Gurung, a correspondent for the state-owned Radio Nepal, were mistaken, according to local news reports. Local rebels had restricted Gurung’s movement and had ordered him to join their campaign or face physical attack, according to the online version of the daily Kantipur.

Both journalists are in good health, according to local and international news reports.

“We welcome the long overdue release of journalist Som Sharma, and urge Maoist leaders to stop targeting journalists,” said Ann Cooper, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. “Journalists have a professional obligation to cover the Maoist insurgency—and acts like this serve only to highlight the movement’s brutality.”

Maoists have been fighting since 1996 to topple Nepal’s monarchy, and both sides in the conflict have targeted journalists. In 2004, Maoists killed Dekendra Raj Thapa, a Radio Nepal correspondent who was abducted in mid-western Dailekh Province. And state security forces continue to hold three journalists—Bhai Kaji Ghimire, Maheshwar Pahari, and Binod Dahal—in their custody under broad anti-terrorism legislation.

A regional administrator detained another journalist, Bhadranath Adhikary, for more than 24 hours last week, according to local news reports. Adhikary is editor and publisher of the bi-weekly Grameen Samachar (Rural News) based in Birgunj, a city in central Nepal. Local newspapers reported that a local official detained the editor in nearby Hetauda after Grameen Samachar printed allegations that the official was involved in corruption. Adhikary was released, but the official demanded another editor report to his office later.