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22.02.2009 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]*