CPJ disturbed by attacks on media houses and journalists in southern Nepal

New York, January 30, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists is disturbed by attacks and threats against journalists by protesters in southern Nepal that have inhibited news coverage of unrest in the area.

Several journalists from the towns of Biratnagar, Birgunj, Inuwara, and Lahan, and in Bara and Saptari districts, have been forced from their homes because of the intimidation, journalists in Nepal told CPJ. Ethnic Madheshis protesting official discrimination have accused the media of biased coverage of the unrest. At least eight people have been killed, most of them protesters, during clashes with police since January 19.

“We are disturbed by sustained and targeted threats against journalists working in southern Nepal, which has lead to the displacement of several colleagues,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Journalists must be free to work without fear of physical attack. We call on Madheshi leaders to respect the right of journalists to cover these violent events. And we call on the government to protect the press during this trying period.”

One of the displaced journalists, Bedraj Poudel, a correspondent for the major daily Kantipur based in Inaruwa, in Sunsari district, was forced to stop working following a death threat on Monday, the newspaper reported. An activist from the protesting Madheshi People’s Rights Forum threatened Poudel by phone, saying they would kill him for refusing to publish news about unrest, Kantipur reported.

Ethnic Madheshis, who historically come from the southern plains region of Terai, are calling for proportional representation in government and an end to discriminatory hiring practices.

“Seven Kantipur reporters have been displaced,” said the newspaper’s Kathmandu-based news editor Guna Raj Luitel. “We are taking this issue seriously. It is a question of the lives of the reporters. But as a result, we aren’t getting proper coverage. We have no reporters in Rajbiraj and we can’t get information.”

An earlier attack on Sunday targeted several media houses in Birgunj. Protesters defying curfew orders vandalized the office of the private news station Radio Birgunj, disrupting broadcasts for several hours. They also attacked the local office of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), the umbrella press organization said. Activists damaged four motorcycles as well as radio equipment of BBC Radio’s Nepali service and community radio group Communication Corner.

Several journalists have also been beaten during protests, including photojournalist Ram Sarraf in Birgunj, according to FNJ and local media reports. Newspapers in the town ceased publication today to protest the attacks on journalists, Kantipur reported.

In Bara, journalists were afraid to go outside to cover unrest following threats against the press, according to FNJ and local media reports.