January 10, 2012
On January 8, 2013, Nepali Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai publicly criticized the arrest of five of his party members, who stand accused of the 2004 murder of radio journalist Dekendra Raj Thapa. He blamed human rights activists instead.
According to Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) – an independent, nonprofit organization promoting press freedom worldwide – police arrested the five men last week, based on a previous complaint filed by the journalist's wife. Four of them are district-level leaders of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist), which heads Bhattarai's coalition government, and the other is affiliated with the Communist Party of Nepal-Maoist, a breakaway faction of the ruling party, according to news reports.
Agence France-Press reported that one of the individuals, Lachhiram Gharti, confessed to taking part in the murder and to burying Dekendra Raj Thapa alive:
The arrests of the five men, whose detention came days after a Nepalese soldier was held in Britain on charges of torture, are the first in Nepal for crimes committed during the decade-long conflict that ended in 2006.
The five men, all middle-ranking cadres, have been charged with the abduction and murder of Dekendra Raj Thapa, a radio reporter and human rights activist who died in 2004.
Lachhiram Gharti, one of the accused, had confessed to taking part in the murder, Binod Sharma, an inspector in the western district of Dailekh, told AFP.
"He confessed to us that they kidnapped (the victim) under the pretext of a discussion on water supply and took him to a local school," Sharma said.
"They tortured him by repeatedly beating him and when he fell unconscious, he was brought to Gharti's home.
"Gharti told us that he gave a glass of water to him. After drinking it, he again fell unconscious... so they dug a pit and buried him alive."
The men are being held in the small western district of Dailekh while police investigate. It is still unclear whether formal charges have been filed against them.
Bhattarai said two days ago that the government did not endorse the arrests and that they were part of a plot by human rights activists to derail the peace process by reviving cases from the conflict period. Although the armed conflict in Nepal between Maoists and the government ended in 2006, the political climate remains precarious: There has been no parliament since it was dissolved in May 2012 and the opposition has been pressing Bhattarai's caretaker government for elections.
Both political parties--the UCPN (Maoist) and the CPN-Maoist--also issued statements asserting the men's innocence, news reports said.
"The pressure being exerted by Prime Minister Bhattarai and the parties illustrates the problem of impunity in Nepal, where political interference has prevented justice from being served in the murders of journalists," said Bob Dietz, CPJ's Asia program coordinator. "Police should be able to continue with their work of bringing killers to justice without being subjected to political pressure."
CPJ has repeatedly called on authorities in Nepal to ensure killers of journalists are prosecuted as a means to redress wrongs. The country ranks sixth on CPJ's Impunity Index, which tallies countries that consistently fail to prosecute journalist murders.
For more data and analysis on the precarious situation for Nepali journalists, as reported by CPJ, click here: