Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Year of Living Dangerously for Nepal's Reporters ; Peace Talks with Rebels Stall Investigations into the Deaths of Eight Journalists

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Year of Living Dangerously for Nepal's Reporters ; Peace Talks with Rebels Stall Investigations into the Deaths of Eight Journalists

Article excerpt

To his wife and colleagues, Krishna Sen was a kind husband and a journalist who wrote passionately about the troubles of the Nepali peasants.

To the government of Nepal, he was a Maoist revolutionary, a supporter of a terrorist organization that had launched a seven- year-long insurgency that killed 8,000 people and brought this small Himalayan kingdom to the edge of anarchy.

Finding out who is right is difficult. Mr. Sen, the editor in chief of the popular Janadesh daily newspaper, disappeared May 20, 2002. Newspapers reported that he was killed by Nepal's police force while in custody. His body has never been found.

Flipping through an album on the floor of her apartment, Sen's widow, Takma K.C., stops at a picture of Sen surrounded by armed men, who were his prison guards during a previous arrest in 1999. "Except for these photos, I don't have anything of my husband," she says, her eyes filling with tears.

The deaths of a few local journalists in a distant Himalayan kingdom may not get as much attention as those of foreign journalists in Iraq or Afghanistan. But if the past year is a gauge, then the long civil war in Nepal places it among the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. I1n all, eight reporters were killed last year; 176 were arrested, kidnapped, or detained; and dozens more were tortured by both the Maoist rebels and by the Nepalese government, according to the Federation of Nepalese Journalists. No legal inquiry has investigated these killings, and despite steady pressure from Nepali and international human rights organizations, none is expected any day soon.

The official reason is that such investigations would stir up bad feeling at a delicate time when the Maoists and the government are engaged in peace talks.

"Inquiries will be made, the truth will get out, but at the present time it is not appropriate for me to talk about such issues," says Rameshnath Pandey, minister of information and communication. But Mr. Pandey, a former journalist and a close friend of Sen, adds that it's inappropriate to even ask the present government about events that took place during the state of emergency which lasted from November 2001 to August 2002 and was declared by the previous government of Sher Bahadur Deuba.

Local journalists say that all efforts to investigate the deaths of Sen and others have been met with denials and coverup. "Since the peace talks began, all cases are closed, because asking questions now endangers the peace process," says Tara Nath Dahal, chairman of the Federation of Nepalese Journalists. "We are not afraid, because during the state of emergency last year we were marching in the streets. But we are worried that the same thing (the killing of journalists) could happen in the future."

A government panel composed of three ministers concluded last summer that neither the police nor the Royal Nepal Army had arrested Sen. But the report mentioned that an unclaimed body resembling Sen's was found around the time of his disappearance. …

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