Even after the restoration of democracy in Nepal, the country’s press has so far been unable to function without threat and intimidation. Violent attacks against journalists, publishers are becoming a common occurrence.
On December 21st, activists belonging to the ruling Maoist party attacked the office of Himal Media, the publisher of Himal and Wave Magazine, Nepali Times and Himal South Asian magazine.
United We Blog describes the incident:
“The Maoist cadres vandalized the Himal Media office at Hattiban in Lalitpur and attacked the staffers including the publisher and Nepali Times editor Kunda Dixit, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Ashutosh Tiwari, Executive Editor Kiran Nepal and senior correspondent Dambar Krishna Shrestha among others.”
The brazen act has drawn sharp criticism from all major political parties, international free press organizations and the United Nations. Surprisingly, the leadership of Maoist party is silent on the attack.
The latest Maoist attack against Himal Media is yet another addition to the long history of the party’s agitation against Nepal’s free press. Kashish at Samudaya.org, who has been associated with Himal Media since 2000, writes about the history of violence:
“A search of ‘Nepal’ on the website IFJ.org (International Federation of Journalists) or a search on Google with the keywords ‘journalist killed by Maoist’ reveals the brutal history of aggression against the media by the Maoists in Nepal. It is deeply troubling that the same party currently heads Nepal's government. It reminds me of Russian journalists who in recent years have ‘mysteriously’ died. In Nepal, however, it's hardly been a mystery; Maoists have either taken credit or been found responsible for these attacks and murders”.
The reason for violence against Himal Media is widely suspected to be a report published in Nepali language fortnightly magazine Himal, about the activities of Maoist affiliated trade unions.
ChangeinKU has a different take on the incident and the reason behind it:
“Himal Media claims that the Maoists attacked them because of their Feature report in (the) vernacular weekly “Himal.” At the same time, it is an open secret that the Himal Media is terminating jobs also. So, a neutral Nepali, who do not have to earn livelihood by writing in Newspapers, find it very difficult to ascertain who is right and who is wrong. It is quite possible that the Management itself might have carried out this kind of attack to hurry closure of the office to give permanency to the job termination.”
No matter what the reason behind the attack is, it raises serious questions about the Nepalese government’s commitment towards press freedom. In last November the South Asian Journalists Association based in New York raised the same question and included a report from Reporters without Borders on the threats against Nepalese press:
“Acts of violence and intimidation against journalists are still very frequent in the provinces. Journalists are particularly threatened in the southern Terai region, where armed groups hold sway and there are hardly any police.”
The photo blog at MyRepublica has a collection of pictures taken by Bijay Rai after the attack showing injured journalists and damaged office premises.