Governance

Many cases of journalists killed during conflict go uninvestigated

Deepraj Sanyal

Kathmandu, 28 Dec – The civil war that plagued the country for a decade since February 1996 had impacted almost all sectors of the national life, and journalism was no exception. Many journalists got caught up in the vortex of the conflict and got killed in the line of duty. Many more were injured and made to disappear. The journalists felt very insecure and could not work freely. Their movement and freedoms were curtailed due to the climate of fear and intimidation that is the norm rather than exception in such hostile situations despite the universally accepted principles of freedom of the press and expression.

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The situation in the decade following the end of the conflict was also not conducive for journalists though the climate of fear had subsided to a large extent. An analysis of facts and figures in the last two decades shows that the Press continued to remain susceptible. Obviously, the insecure Press has not been able to play the role of an effective watchdog of society. Hundreds of incidents of violation of freedom of the Press and expression have been reported in the past years.

A study report on the legal status of the cases of journalists and media persons killed or made to disappear in the last two decades and entitled, ‘Unabated Impunity’, released by the Freedom Forum, states that nearly 23 journalists and media persons were killed and three were forced to disappear in the last two decades in various pretexts. The report also lists 14 journalists unaccounted for.

A decade has passed since the conflict ended with the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Accord. Although some semblance of peace returned to the country, the country is still in transition phase. Transitional justice mechanisms have been set up to investigate into the atrocities occurred during the conflict period. In this connection, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappeared Persons are carrying out their works and have solicited applications from the conflict survivors on the related incidents.

In this context, the Freedom Forum report is well-timed as it chronicles the cases of the 23 journalists killed during the insurgency. It will help in the investigation into these cases.

However, the report shows that most incidents of killing and enforced disappearance of journalists/ media persons have not been investigated into. Only seven of 26 such cases have reached the court. Nineteen such cases remain uninvestigated or only partially investigated.

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This shows that only a few such incidents have come under the purview of the law and impunity is still prevalent in the Press sector in Nepal. More than two-third of these incidents have not been investigated upon. The report also shows that the failure to bring to book the perpetrators has made the sector vulnerable.

According to the report, the government has withdrawn some cases related to journalists’ killing terming these as political cases.

Mr Taranath Dahal, Chairman of the Freedom Forum, an organisation working in the field of media research, press freedom and Right to Information, says the incidents of killing and enforced disappearances of journalists during the conflict period should be promptly investigated into and their families given justice.

Among the 23 journalists listed as killed in the study report during the conflict, Dekendra Thapa, Gopal Giri, Krishna Sen ‘Ichhuk’, Ishwar Budhathoki, Kumar Ghimire, D Kaudinnayan, Raj Kumar KC, Kamal AC, Maheshwar Pahari, Khagendra Shrestha, Ambika Timsina, Nawaraj Sharma ‘Basanta’, Gyanendra Khadka and Dhan Bahadur Rokaya were assassinated before November 21, 2006, the day the Comprehensive Peace Accord was signed. Nine journalists were killed after the CPA. They are Uma Singh, Birendra Sah, Jamim Shah, Arun Singhaniya, JP Joshi, Rohan Chaudhari, Devi Prasad Dhital and Pushkar Bahadur Shrestha.

Meanwhile, the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) has stated that as per its record, 36 journalists are listed as killed and four as forced into disappearance. It has registered joint application at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and the Commission of Inquiry on Enforced Disappeared Persons seeking investigation into all of the incidents of killing and enforced disappearances related to journalists after the State side failed to forward investigation into them.

As per the report, investigation has not been carried out yet into the killing or enforced disappearance of Krishna Bahadur Sen ‘Ichhuk’, Ishwar Budhathoki (Kanchan Priyadarshi) from Sindhupalchok, Kumar Ghimire from Sindhuli, Dev Kumar Acharya (D Kaudinyan) from Jhapa, Raj Kumar KC from Ramechhap, Kamal AC from Tanahun, Maheshwar Paharai from Kaski, Rohan Chaudhari from Mahottari, reportedly carried out by the State side; and of Khagendra Shrestha of Dharan, Ambika Timilsina of Morang, Nawaraj Sharma ‘Basanta’ of Kalikot, Gyanendra Khadka of Sindhupalchok and Dhan Bahadur Rokaya Magar of Rolpa said to be carried out by the then rebel side; and of Devi Prasad Dhital of Dang and Pushkar Bahadur Shrestha of Parsa, carried out by unidentified gangs.

Also the Freedom Forum today handed over the report to the government, Nepal Police, the National Human Rights Commission, TRC and CIEDP, and the Attorney General. It said the report has been submitted to the government and these bodies so that journalism will be made secure by investigating into these incidents, an environment conducive for ending impunity would be created, professional journalism would be promoted and the families of those killed and disappeared journalists get justice.

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