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Despite the restoration of democracy and the launch of a peace process in 2006 marking the end of 10 years of conflict between the state and Maoist rebels, the times are difficult for journalists. Many feel themselves to be under constant danger and tend to exercise self-censorship. Low wages and the lack of vocational training add to their problems.
The appointment of a new government comprising members of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) after the Constituent Assembly election in 2008 was a positive sign for freedom of the press. Unfortunately, abuses directed against media workers continued during the nine-month premiership of Pushpa Kamal Dahal, also known as Prachanda.
The enemies of press freedom have been quick to take advantage of the political instability. On 7 February 2010, unidentified attackers killed media owner Jamim Shah in Kathmandu. An Indian underworld gang led by Chhota Rajan later claimed responsibility for the murder. During the same month, Arun Singhaniya, a media owner who headed the Janakpur Today Media Group, was killed by an unidentified armed gang in Janakpur. In July 2010, Devi Prasad Dhital, the chairman of community radio station Tulsipur FM in the western district of Dang, was murdered in a similar manner.
Media workers in towns and cities believe themselves to be in less danger than their counterparts in rural areas, where armed groups make life difficult. Acts of violence are common in the mountains of the east and south. In the southern region of Terai, media organizations have been partially censored and some are entirely under the control of local political groups and influential individuals. The last three communist governments failed to create conditions that are conducive to the media, putting journalists in a precarious position. The Federation of Nepalese Journalists fears things may get even worse if discord between parties persists. In 2010, several local politicians, including members of the Constituent Assembly, issued death threats against journalists in the region, coercing them to write favourable reports about the activities of their political groups.
Trials and legal proceedings are common currency, but violence remains the main problem facing journalists. Physical assaults are frequent and generally go unpunished, despite the good intentions expressed by the government. Some leaders grant political protection to those behind the threats and assaults. A striking example is the inability of the present government to punish Youth Force leader Parshuram Basnet, suspected of masterminding an attack on the journalist Khilanath Dhakal last June. Basnet is believed to be protected by the leadership of the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist) of the former prime minister Jhala Nath Khanal, of which he is a member.
According to the journalists’ federation, in 2010 at least one journalist was killed as a direct result of his work and 20 others were assaulted. During the same period, 42 received threats from gangs and other criminal groups, while 33 were harassed. In 2011, at least five journalists were injured, five others were assaulted and nine were threatened.
Despite regulations and legal guarantees on press freedom, Nepalese journalists do not feel safe, thanks to the government’s inability to take action to prevent reprisals, attacks, pressure and threats.
However, significant progress was made in 2011. The district court in Dhanusha sentenced two suspects to life imprisonment for the murder of Uma Singh in Janakpur in January 2009. On May 30, the district court in Bara sentenced Mainejar Giri and Ram Ekwal Sahani to life imprisonment and ordered the seizure of their assets for the kidnapping and murder of Birendra Shah, a correspondent for Nepal FM radio, Dristi Weekly and the television station Avenues TV. However, the authorities are still seeking the man suspected of plotting the murder, Lal Bahadur Chaudhary. Throughout the year, threats and attacks by politicians and armed groups continued to tarnish press freedom.
For most of the Nepalese population, particularly in rural areas, radio remains the main source of news and information. The print media mainly reach residents of the cities and big towns. As a result of the widespread deployment of satellite broadcasting and the launch of a new Direct-to-Home transmission system, a growing number of commercial television stations are winning viewers in rural areas. The government-run media outlets Nepal TV and Radio Nepal have to some extent reduced their support for the ruling party and have started broadcasting a greater variety of programmes. The same trend can be seen with the publisher Gorkhapatra Corporation and the national news agency Rashtriya Samachar Samiti, both state owned.
The Internet is developing and the number of users is growing, which benefits freedom of expression. However, some groups have quickly discovered how to use social media to threaten journalists. In the district of Siraha, in Terai, one journalist was threatened on Facebook by a clandestine armed group.
Nepal - 21 November 2013
Nepal - 23 September 2013
Nepal - 15 February 2013