Nepal’s Birendra Shah is dead, Maoists say

New York, November 5, 2007—Maoist authorities issued a statement today confirming the murder of Nepalese journalist Birendra Shah on October 4, the day he was kidnapped, by members of their party, according to Guna Raj Luitel, news editor of Kantipur Daily in Kathmandu.

The Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) had distanced itself from the murder, which it called an individual and anarchic act by a district committee member, Lal Bahadur Chaudhary, and two associates. The three had described their involvement in the murder to the party by telephone, according to Luitel. They had previously been expelled from the party and would now face disciplinary action, Luitel said.

“We are shocked to hear of Shah’s death and extend our deepest condolences to his family and colleagues,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We expect the local Maoist party to cooperate fully with the authorities in bringing the cadres responsible to justice for this appalling act.”

The Maoists’ announcement comes the day after armed police injured four journalists and arrested 14 others during a protest in Kathmandu calling for Shah’s whereabouts to be revealed, according to Luitel. Police beat back protesting reporters in front of Singhadurbar, the government headquarters, where demonstrations are forbidden. At least one journalist was treated in a local hospital for minor head injuries, Luitel told CPJ. The 14 detained journalists were released later that day.

Shah was the local correspondent for Nepal FM, Dristi Weekly, and Avenues TV in Bara district, in central Nepal. He had written reports criticizing local Maoists before his kidnapping. Shah was feared dead after the Maoists condemned the action but failed to release him or confirm his whereabouts.

Shah’s body has not been recovered. The Maoist statement said he had been buried in the jungle in Bara, Luitel said.

Shah’s case was raised in the Nepalese parliament several times after his disappearance, according to news reports. The government has not yet responded to the Maoists’ statement, Luitel said. A peace agreement between the government and Nepal’s Maoist party in November 2006 ended a decade-long insurgency. Both sides assured that press freedom would be respected after the accord.

Another journalist, Shankar Panthi, correspondent of the pro-Maoist Naya Satta, was killed in Nepal on September 15, in circumstances that remain unclear. 

The Federation of Nepalese Journalists will lead a demonstration condemning Shah’s death tomorrow.