New York, January 8, 2013--Nepalese Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai today publicly criticized the arrest of five of his party members who stand accused of the 2004 murder of radio journalist Dekendra Raj Thapa, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the arrests and calls on the prime minister to allow due process to take its course.
Police arrested the five men last week, based on a previous complaint filed by the journalist's wife, news reports said. Four of them are district-level leaders of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which heads Bhattarai's coalition government, and the other is affiliated with the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, a breakaway faction of the ruling party, according to news reports.
Agence France-Press reported that one of the individuals, Lachhiram Gharti, confessed to taking part in the murder and to burying Thapa alive. The men are being held in the small western district of Dailekh while police investigate, news reports said. It is unclear whether formal charges have been filed against them.
Bhattarai said today that the government did not endorse the arrests and that they were part of a plot by human rights activists to derail the peace process by reviving cases from the conflict period, news reports said. Although the armed conflict in Nepal between Maoists and the government ended in 2006, the political climate remains precarious: There has been no parliament since it was dissolved in May 2012 and the opposition has been pressing Bhattarai's caretaker government for elections.
Both political parties--the UCPN (Maoist) and the CPN-Maoist--also issued statements asserting the men's innocence, news reports said.
"The pressure being exerted by Prime Minister Bhattarai and the parties illustrates the problem of impunity in Nepal, where political interference has prevented justice from being served in the murders of journalists," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "Police should be able to continue with their work of bringing killers to justice without being subjected to political pressure."
CPJ has repeatedly called on authorities in Nepal to ensure killers of journalists are prosecuted as a means to redress wrongs. The country ranks sixth on CPJ's Impunity Index, which tallies countries that consistently fail to prosecute journalist murders.
- For more data and analysis on Nepal, visit CPJ's Nepal page here.