KATHMANDU, Feb 1: On Tuesday, media persons heaved a sigh of relief as a group of 20 journalists displaced earlier by the Maoists in Dailekh returned to the district headquarters after local authorities assured them of security.
They had fled the district last week after Maoist cadres attacked them and threatened that at least 10 journalists would have to face the fate of Dekendra Thapa, who was tortured and buried alive by Maoist cadres some eight years ago in the same district.
But the excitement seen in the country´s media fraternity didn´t last long. While a team of journalists led by Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) Chairman Shiva Gaule, local officials and representatives from local political leaders and other representatives from various walks of life were welcoming the arrival of a group of 20 journalists to their home district, Gaule received phone calls from journalists in Kavre saying they had to face the ire of Maoist-affiliated Young Communist League (YCL) cadres.
The Maoist cadres had indiscriminately attacked journalists covering the protests of opposition parties, including Nepali Congress and CPN-UML, against Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai. Also, another group of journalists, who had reached there to cover a separate function of the Maoists in the same district, were also attacked by the Maoist cadres.
FNJ President Gaunle left for Kavre on Thursday morning immediately after the return of his team to Kathmandu to inquire about the security situation in the district. At least six journalists were seriously hurt -- some of them are still undergoing treatment at various hospitals in Kavre and Kathmandu.
“We were expecting that the overall situation of media security will improve after the return of the displaced journalists to their home district in Dailekh. But that didn´t even last for hours,” FNJ central member Balkrishna Basnet, who accompanied Gaule in the visits to Dailekh and Kavre districts, told Republica.
Basnet said journalists in Kavre are still terror-stricken since UCPN (Maoist) cadres have been issuing repeated threats to them for reporting Maoist excesses.
“What is worrisome is that the attack on media persons in Kavre seems to be premeditated,” added Basnet. Maoist cadres had ripped off mediaperson´s jackets and t-shirts. The media persons had planned symbolic protests demanding action against those involved in the gruesome murder of journalist Dekendra Thapa.
Journalist Narayan Wagle said the Dailekh incident clearly indicates that the UCPN (Maoist) is still antagonistic to the free press. “Journalists in Dailekh have only been rehabilitated. We can still rest assured of their security yet," said Wagle, who recently returned to Kathmandu after studying the journalists´ situation in Dailekh.
Wagle argued that the ruling Maoist leaders haven´t acknowledged safety concerns of journalists, let alone addressing other concerns of journalists. “The recent statements and acts of ruling leaders clearly show that it is very unlikely for the parties in power to address the concerns of journalists,” he explained.
As the media persons in the country continue to be target of political cadres and other criminal groups even after the end of decade-long armed conflict, Nepal is witnessing a decline in the World Press Freedom Index, with Nepal´s ranking slipping down the index in the year 2013.
“Instead of addressing the demand of journalists to ensure the rule of law and an end to impunity, the government appears to be trying to appease media through bribes. The cabinet decision on Thursday to pass proportional advertisement directive is nothing but an attempt to bribe the media to win their favor in serving the interests of the ruling parties,” added Wagle.