By Robert Kittel
Kathmandu, Nepal — A four-day visit to Nepal by an international media mission concluded Sunday with a call for impartial investigations into violations of press freedom, and an end to impunity for those responsible, beginning immediately.
Press freedoms continue to be threatened in Nepal, despite the restoration of democracy through elections in April, 2008 and the abolition of the 240-year-old monarchy. Last year the Federation of Nepali Journalists recorded 342 cases of press freedom violations throughout the country.
Sukumar Muralidharan, from the International Federation of Journalists, raised serious issues of due process, noting that under the current government, “No case of human rights violation has been brought to trial or ended in a judicial verdict.”
At the press conference on Sunday, Muralidharan called for a series of investigations that would be transparent and accountable. He also said this process should include some measure of civil society, saying, “This is a matter that concerns us all.”
The Federation of Nepali Journalists invited the international team of observers to Nepal following continued threats of intimidation and increased instances of violence, especially in the southern Tarai region.
In January Uma Singh, a woman journalist based in the southern Janakpur region, was brutally murdered by 15 armed men who forced their way into her home and stabbed her. She died on the way to the hospital.
Singh wrote frequently about women’s rights issues and against the dowry system, common in Hindu culture, where parents pay huge sums of money to have their daughters married. Her murderers escaped and were never identified.
The mission said that at least three other journalists have been killed. It also condemned recent attacks on media groups including the Kantipur newspaper, Himal media, Ankush Daily and the Ramaroshan FM radio station.
Thomas Hughes of International Media Support, one of the groups involved in the mission, called for “an end to impunity and the proper investigation of cases (of press violation).” Without naming specific political parties, Hauges went on to say, “We are concerned about links between political parties and armed groups that are undertaking these attacks.”
Most of the attacks have been blamed on the Maoists. Even though Nepal has become a democracy and the former Maoist rebels have morphed into the ruling political party, it seems it is hard to shake old habits of violence and coercion against opponents and critics.
“The ongoing attacks, threats, and harassment of media personnel and organizations are having chilling effects on press freedom,” Hughes said.
Members of the international media mission met with Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal, who assured them that cases of violence and harassment of media personnel and organizations would be reopened and taken seriously.
However, there is a credibility gap between the words and the deeds of the Maoist-led government. The People’s Review, a weekly news magazine with leanings toward the former king, has criticized the Maoists for a tendency to say anything as long as it advances their cause.
In a commentary entitled, “Maoist Confrontation, Not Cooperation,” the government is accused of “double talk” and the Maoists condemned for “adopting a totalitarian modus operandi.”
Meanwhile, the former prime minister and president of the Nepali Congress party, Girija Prasad Koirala, told journalists in his hometown of Birathanga on Feb. 8 that the current government is “like the setting sun.” In his opinion, he said, “The government has failed.”
Koirala was instrumental in bringing the Maoists into the peace process, which ultimately led to their winning the elections last year and heading up a coalition government.
The international media mission consisted of representatives from ARTICLE 19 – a London-based non-government organization named after the 19th article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – as well as from UNESCO, International Federation of Journalists, International Media Support, International Press Institute, Reporters Without Borders, International Press Freedom and Freedom of Expression, and the World Press Freedom Committee.
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