Arresting offenders in Rukum (Journalist attacked by the Maoists)

A week after the deadly attack, journalist Tika Bista is still in a hospital bed and her attackers roam free. Bista´s only crime was pursuing the journalism of courage in remote Rukum. Circumstantial evidence suggests that she was attacked by Maoist cadres after she wrote an article in a local newspaper criticizing them. This shows how Nepali journalists, especially those working outside the capital, are still vulnerable to physical assault. There have been, broadly speaking, two types of people attacking journalists. The first type is criminals who see journalists as an obstacle to their criminal activities, while the second category comes from political groups that do not tolerate alternative political views.

The Maoists are in the forefront when it comes to attacking journalists. We don´t believe the Maoist leadership at the centre has issued any directive to cadres in the countryside, or even actively encourages them, to attack journalists. But they have been consistent in defending them when they are involved in any crime. This time too, Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal has refuted allegations that his cadres were behind the attack on journalist Bista. Dahal and the Maoist leadership did the same thing when news broke of the killings of journalist Birendra Shah, businessman Ram Hari Shestha and UML activist Prachanda Thaiba by their cadres. But when enough evidence was accumulated to prove they had a hand, the Maoist leadership has backed down and pledged to punish those involved. Yet eventually they never took any action. Kali Bahadur Kham, the main accused in Shrestha´s killing, got promoted to the central committee of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), the accused in the death of journalist Shah has been given a berth in a party district office and a man implicated in Thaiba´s killing is “absconding”. All this sends a sinister message to Maoists cadres: If they are involved in any crime, the party will do its best to cover up and shield them from any action under the law of the land.

Bista´s attackers must be arrested to send out the message that there is no longer any impunity for crime. The state has initiated action and some Maoists suspected in attacking her have been interrogated for possible involvement. But local journalists have criticized the state for its half-hearted probing of the case. It´s possible that junior police officials in the districts might have been under pressure from the local Maoists leadership not to carry out any serious investigation against their cadres. If that´s the case, the Home Ministry should immediately dispatch a high-level investigation team to Rukum. It is because of the courage of journalists like Bista and the late Uma Singh that we have been able to learn what´s going on in the countryside. Should such voices gradually die down because of threats and insecurity, it will be a big loss for Nepali journalism and a setback in the creation of an open society where everyone is free to express views and to criticize them.

Published on 2009-12-15 07:40:44