Nepal journalist’s killers sentenced to life

New York, June 6, 2011–The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the life imprisonment of the two men who murdered journalist Birendra Shah. CPJ also calls for the arrest of three local Maoists accused of masterminding the 2007 killing.

A judge in the central Bara district sentenced Mainejar Giri and Ram Ekwal Sahini to life terms and confiscated their property on May 30, according to local news reports. The two abducted and killed Shah, a local correspondent for the Nepal FM radio station, Dristi Weekly, and Avenues TV, on October 4, 2007.

Maoist leaders have said publicly that renegade party member Lal Bahadur Chaudhary, and two associates named in local news reports as Kundan Faujdar and Hare Ram Patel are responsible for the crime, according to CPJ research. The three remain suspects but have not been arrested. Before his kidnapping, Shah had written critically about local Maoists.

“We are reassured by the life sentences for the two men who killed Birendra Shah,” said CPJ Deputy Director Robert Mahoney. “The masterminds, however, remain at large: Maoist leaders must cooperate with police to ensure that justice is achieved, with the arrest and prosecution of the remaining suspects.”

Nepal’s former rebel Maoists joined the interim government in 2007 following a decade-long insurgency which culminated in deposing Nepal’s monarch. The former insurgents now hold the majority in a ruling coalition called the Unified Communist Party of Nepal, which is Maoist. Both sides of the conflict committed abuses against press freedom during the civil war but promised to respect freedom of expression after the peace agreement.

Yet many atrocities committed during the war remain uninvestigated, and attacks on journalists continue with impunity: The masterminds behind Shah’s killing are just one piece of this bloody puzzle. Maoist supporters have been implicated in many, including the 2008 murder of Janadisha editor and Maoist activist J.P. Joshi, who reported on local party disputes, and the January 2009 slaying of Uma Singh, who had documented Maoist land seizures. Nepal placed seventh on CPJ’s 2011 Impunity Index, published Wednesday, which lists countries where governments regularly fail to solve journalist murders.

Leadership disputes among the coalition members have reduced Nepal’s political process to a near-stalemate. Lawmakers failed to meet a deadline to draft a new constitution for the second year running in May, according to international news reports.