Numerous Nepali journalists flee after receiving threats

New York, January 28, 2013–Authorities in Nepal should ensure the safety of more than 20 journalists who fled the western district of Dailekh on Thursday after receiving death threats from individuals they said were supporters of the ruling Maoist party, the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. At least five news outlets have been forced to halt operations as a result, news reports said.

Twenty-two journalists fled after receiving death threats during Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai’s visit to Dailekh on January 24, according to news reports. Local journalists said they were threatened after protesting what they perceived to be the prime minister’s interference in the arrests of five individuals in connection with the 2004 murder of radio journalist Dekendra Raj Thapa, according to news reports. Nepal ranks sixth on CPJ’s Impunity Index, which spotlights countries where journalists are murdered regularly and killers go free.

On January 8, Bhattarai said the arrests in the Thapa murder were a plot by human rights activists to derail the peace process, according to news reports. Four of the accused belonged to the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which heads Bhattarai’s coalition, and the other is affiliated with the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, a breakaway faction of the ruling party, according to news reports.

Pushkar Thapa, a reporter for the Annapurna Post daily and no relation to Dekendra Thapa, told Freedom Forum that he and other journalists had been threatened by cadres of the Maoist party, according to the International Freedom of Expression Exchange. News accounts reported that journalists attempting to cover the Maoist district convention on January 24 were told that they would meet the same fate as Dekendra Thapa.

After receiving the threats, the journalists fled Dailekh and sought refuge in the nearby district of Surkhet, according to Narayan Wagle, former editor of Kantipur and Nagarik dailies, and news reports. The journalists said they would remain there until they were guaranteed protection by the government.

Shiva Gaunle, chairman of the Federation of Nepali Journalists, told CPJ that the exodus of journalists from Dailekh had caused two dailies, Dhamaka and Hamro Tesro Aankha, to stop printing. A third paper, the weekly Sajha Pratibimba, had also been suspended indefinitely, according to news reports. Two FM stations, Radio Panchakoshi and Radio Dhruvatara, had gone off the air as well, Gaunle said.

“The climate of fear in Dailekh is denying citizens their right to information and interfering with the prosecution in the murder of Dekendra Thapa,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ Asia program coordinator. “The government has an obligation to bring an end to this intimidation and ensure that journalists can safely return to their homes and workplaces.”

Gaunle told CPJ that he met Home Minister Bijay Kumar Gacchedar on Sunday, and that the official had assured him that the journalists’ safety would be ensured. Still, Gaunle said, the journalists remained apprehensive about returning to Dailekh.

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