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20.02.2009 Asia

Killing of Nepali Woman journalist brings Condemnation to Prachanda

By Nava Thakuria

As Nepal welcomes 2009 as a secular democratic republic after shedding
its earlier identity of a Hindu kingdom, bad news poured from the land
of Maoists. The first two weeks of the New Year brought the news of
killing of a young woman journalist, suspectedly by the supporters of
Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which is in power at Kathmandu now.
The coalition government led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal (Prachanda) faced
serious criticism from the political parties following the murder of
Uma Singh, on January 12. She worked for a private radio was hacked to
death at her house in Janakpur area of southern Nepal by a group of
unidentified armed men.

Known for her strong point of views on women's rights, caste and dowry
systems and also for various political issues, the brave journalist
was attacked by around 15 men armed with traditional Nepali curved
knives (known as Khukhri). Uma, who was below 30 and the first female
journalist to be killed in Nepal, was taken to the hospital, but soon
she succumbed to injuries.

"Working in the most lawless part of Nepal, Uma Singh was fearless
with her written and spoken word. She reported in particular against
violence and discrimination against women. She did this with a sense
of immediacy and professionalism in radio and print, and in three
languages," said Kanak Mani Dixit, a veteran Nepali journalist.
Uma's murder must push us to oppose the infrastructure of violence and
impunity in Nepal, which has put innocent citizens in the line of
fire. By extinguishing a journalist, the criminals have violated the
public's right to know, Dixit commented.

The Federation of Nepali Journalists, an umbrella organisation of
Nepal based journalists, claimed that Maoists were involved in the
brutal murder of the journalist cum women rights activist.
The federation president Dharmendra Jha spoke in clear voice that
Maoists hands in the killing was suspected as her father (Ranjit
Singh) and elder brother (Sanjay Singh) were also abducted and killed
by them three years back.

The Federation also declared a series of protest programmes including
the submission of a memorandum to president Dr Ram Baran Yadav,
holding discussion with editors, civil society & advocacy groups and
political parties, and meeting the head of the coalition government.
Prachanda, also the chairman of CPN-M, vowed to book the culprits
involved in the murder of Uma. While meeting a delegation of
journalists, the prime minister however denied that any body
associated with his party was responsible the killing. Later, the
government declared Uma as a martyr journalist and offered Rs 1
million as compensation to her close relatives.

The PM even canceled a planned trip to Europe because of the crisis.
Quoting Prachanda, local media reported, "I don't think it is the time
to go abroad, when the country is facing so many problems."
Mentionable that Prachanda's government, supported by two important
political parties (CPN-UML and MPRF) is facing severe power crisis and
food storage, not to speak of the political tension with the coalition
partners.

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also condemned the
brutal murder of Uma. Jacqueline Park, the Asia-Pacific Director of
IFJ, while expressing outrage and grief at the incident, 'called upon
high-level authorities in Nepal to enter into good faith talks with
the FNJ and all other relevant bodies to improve the media freedom
situation in the country'.

Message of condemnation came from the International Press Institute
(IPI) too. The Nepal National Committee of IPI said in a statement
that 'it was shocked' at the killing of the young journalist. David
Dadge, the IPI director reminded Prachanda that he committed 'to
respect press freedom', when Prachanda visited its office in June
2008. "Such a commitment carries the responsibility of bringing
prosecutors of crimes against journalists to justice and therewith
giving a strong signal that such attacks are not tolerated," the
director added.

The National Human Rights Commission of Nepal and the United Nations
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal also joined
condemning the murder of Uma, where both the organizations urged the
authorities to investigate the matter seriously and book the culprits,
who were responsible for Uma's assassination.

Even the UNECO director-general Koïchiro Matsuura said is an official
statement, "If Nepal is to uphold the two basic human rights of
freedom of expression and equal rights of men and women, it will need
to bring the culprits of this crime to justice."

"Even in death Uma Singh will continue to inspire more young women and
men to take up journalism because Nepalis now know the vital need for
free media. The pull of good journalism has become irresistible,
because free media can assure the public that the future can be better
than our past by enabling an accountable government," concluded Dixit,
the editor of Himal magazine.

The Nepal government had earlier faced lot of hue and cry when
activists belonged to CPN-M vandalized a prestigious media group in
Kathmandu, on December 21. The attack on the Himalmedia Pvt Ltd
resulted in the injury of scribes and other employees and also damage
of properties.

An unruly group of over 50 Maoists even did not spare a senior most
Nepali journalist and the editor of Nepali Times, Kunda Dixit. They
threatened to repeat the acts and target other newspaper house as
well, if the media continued publishing articles critical to Maoists.
The incident was strongly condemned by the media, both national and
international, and the socio-political organizations of Nepal. The
Nepali journalist federation protested the acts by leaving the
editorials of the daily newspapers blank on December 23. They were
joined in denouncing the incident by the International Federation of
Journalists and the Reporter Sans Border saying, that 'the government
must guarantee the right of every voice to be heard by punishing
violators and by not allowing its supporters to act with the
impunity'.

The intolerance of Maoists in various aspects was highlighted by the
UN Secretary-General too. In a recent remark on Nepal, Ban Ki-moon
expressed apprehension that the Maoist party might had continued
'using arms and violence' for their political scores.
The UN chief, who paid a visit to Nepal last year observed, "The
internal debate held during the national gathering (of the Maoists)
and some public statements by Maoist leaders also resonated outside
the party, giving rise to further questioning of the Maoists'
commitment to multi-party democracy and concern that the party has not
abandoned its military past."

The author is a Guwahati, Assam, India based independent journalist and can be contacted at [email protected]

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