Mon, Jun 29, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Nepal’s power struggle puts pressure on media

AFP , KATHMANDU

Nepalese journalist Gyanendra Mishra believes he was lucky to survive an attack by gunmen earlier this year.

The 25-year-old radio producer suffered bullet wounds to his left shoulder when three armed men attacked him in broad daylight, putting him in a hospital and leaving him afraid to pursue his chosen career.

Mishra’s attackers were never caught but he is convinced his terrifying ordeal — one of a series of recent attacks on media workers in Nepal — was related to his job, and says he is now facing family pressure to give it up.

“Whenever I go out alone now, I feel scared. There is the constant fear that someone might attack me again,” he told reporters. “My parents are very worried and they are asking me to change my profession.”

Media workers are increasingly finding themselves caught up in the bitter struggle for power in Nepal after the fall of the Maoist-led government last month.

Many say the biggest threat comes from the Maoists, who fought a decade-long civil war with the army before signing a peace agreement in 2006.

Since then, the former guerrillas have publicly embraced multiparty democracy and confined their fighters to camps under the supervision of the UN.

But members of their youth wing, the Young Communist League (YCL), have held a series of at times violent protests in recent weeks and have appeared to target media organizations that criticise the Maoists.

Earlier this month YCL members attacked and set fire to a van carrying copies of the Kathmandu Post and Kantipur dailies after they ran a story contradicting claims a YCL worker was murdered by a rival party.

“The Maoists and their sister organizations are the biggest threat to the media now,” said Hari Bahadur Thapa, news editor of Kantipur. “They have established a disturbing habit of assaulting journalists who report critically about their activities. Our publication house has been attacked time and again for writing critical stories about the Maoists and their affiliated wings.”

Dharmendra Jha, president of the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), said media workers felt increasingly insecure.

“Media houses are being forced into self-censorship due to fear of attacks. This is deeply worrying,” he told reporters.

“After armed conflict came to an end in 2006, we were hoping that the situation would improve for journalists, but the reality looks grim,” he said.

The FNJ said it had registered more than 100 cases of physical attacks, threats and harassment against journalists in the past six months and receives fresh complaints every week.

Many such incidents occur in the Terai, the country’s southern plains, where ethnic tensions have been stoked by militant groups — many of them linked to the Maoist party.

In January, Uma Singh, a 24-year-old Terai-based radio journalist who wrote about women’s rights and criticized political leaders, was stabbed to death in her apartment. Her murder remains unsolved.

“Groups affiliated with political parties and armed outfits are attacking journalists for writing critical stories,” said Upendra Lamichhane, a newspaper reporter in Birgunj town in the Terai.

Last month, Lamichhane was threatened by a group of baton-wielding demonstrators who accused him of writing inaccurate reports about their cause as he tried to cover their protest.

“I have no hope of getting help with security from the police or local authorities here,” he told reporters. “Law and order is practically non-existent.”

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