Nepalese journalist abducted, Maoist leadership denies responsibility

New York, October 10, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the abduction of Nepalese journalist Birendra Shah, Bara district correspondent for Nepal FM, Dristi Weekly, and Avenues TV.

Shah has been missing since Friday. Ram Dev Das, editor of the magazine Terai Khabar Patrika, told the Federation of Nepalese Journalists that he was with Shah when they were kidnapped by an unidentified group in Kalaiya, in the central Nepalese district of Bara. Das said he was beaten by the kidnappers before being released, according to the federation.

“We call on the local Maoist authorities to exert their influence to ensure Birendra Shah’s immediate release,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “The party leadership must take appropriate action against cadres who attack and abduct journalists if they wish to uphold their press freedom commitments.”

The Federation of Nepalese Journalists said Shah had written a number of reports critical of the Maoists, who have been in conflict with the Nepalese government for years. He had previously received several threats. Nepal’s Maoist party ended a decade-long conflict with the government in November 2006, when both sides assured journalists that media conditions would improve. Allegations of press harassment by Maoist cadres and government officials continue to be made, particularly outside the capital. 

“We are not sure which reporting was the reason for his abduction. But the local Maoists were not on good terms with Shah,” Kathmandu-based Nepal FM station manager Binod Dhungel told The Associated Press.

While Bara Maoist leaders have denied responsibility for the abduction, local news reports said that the leaders confirmed that Maoist-affiliated cadres were involved in the abduction.

During a mission of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists to Bara on Sunday, Maoist authorities told representatives that those responsible would be held accountable.

The press organization Press Chautari Nepal, of which Shah was also a member, organized demonstrations to call for his release on Sunday.

On October 3, CPJ issued a public letter to the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) to express concern at the interference of Maoist-affiliated organizations with the circulation of newspapers produced by private news company Kantipur Publications,  which owns five publications including the widely read Kantipur.