CPJ calls for probe into attacks on journalists in Nepalgunj

New York, January 3, 2007— The Committee to Protect Journalists called today on the Nepalese government to investigate attacks on journalists in the western town of Nepalgunj which prompted nine newspapers to suspend publication from December 26 to 30. The attacks came amid sectarian violence that killed one person and injured dozens.

“We are concerned that journalists were a specific target of recent violence in Nepalgunj,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on Nepal’s government to investigate the attacks on journalists, and to ensure that violence does not threaten the ability of the press to do its job.”

The media in Nepal, whose work was curtailed following a royal coup d’etat in February 2005, has flourished since a new government took power last year.

Several journalists were attacked after cadres of the Nepal Sadbhawana Party-Anandevi (NSP-A) called a strike on December 25 to protest what they called official discrimination against Madheshi people, who live in the southern plains. Many of the journalists in Nepalgunj are originally from the mountainous regions.

On December 26, men set fire to the motorcycle of Sama Thapa, editor of the local Satya Patra Daily, according to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ). The newspaper had recently run photos of activists carrying saws and hammers, apparently to use as weapons. On the same day, men who appeared to be NSP-A activists also attacked Satya Patra Daily journalist Prabhat Devkota and Nispakcha Weekly journalist Basanta Sharma.

Local FNJ district president Jhalak Gaire was also attacked while on his way to the office. On his recommendation, Nepalgunj newspapers suspended publication for four days until violence in the town subsided. Just one newspaper, which has the protection of Maoist rebels, continued operations.

On December 29, journalist Sashinath Bhattarai was attacked at his residence outside of Nepalgunj, according to the FNJ. The attackers broke his arm and damaged property worth more than US$3000.

A curfew was imposed in the town on December 26 and lifted two days later, according to The Associated Press. Rioting subsided after local leaders organized peace rallies to call for an end to violence.