The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is
deeply worried that two weeks after the murder of Devi Prasad Dhital, a radio
station head in Tulsipur town in Nepal’s far-western district of Dang, there is
little clue about the identity of his killers or the motive behind the crime.
chairman of the Tulsipur FM radio station, was killed on the evening of July 22
by a group of five men who shot at him as he emerged from the home of a school teacher
and political associate in his home town.
representative who accompanied the President of the IFJ-affiliated Federation
of Nepali Journalists (FNJ) to the scene nine days later found that the local
police investigation is yet to establish a motive for the crime or to identify
FM staff do not know why Dhital’s role as a media entrepreneur should have
invited this manner of retribution.
the context of repeated acts of violence and intimidation against radio station
operators in Nepal, this case needs to be investigated as a crime against the
right to free speech, until it is conclusively proved not to be the case,” IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said.
time of his murder, Dhital was campaigning for elections to the local village
committee of the Nepali Congress Party (NCP), of which he has been an ordinary
member for long. The NCP is a coalition partner in Nepal’s interim caretaker
government, but local investigators believe the election was not a high-stakes
contest, as it was merely about choosing local delegates to the provincial and
national conventions of the NCP.
also has other business interests and wide social commitments including in
local charities. None of these activities reveals any reason for animosity that
could lead to murder.
FM, run by a trust that Dhital chaired, is a community radio station set up in 2005
with international donor assistance. The station is now running on advertising
revenue, which amounts to about Nepalese Rupees (NPR) 250,000 a month. The
station employs 17 journalists and manages to break even with a nominal level
of donor assistance for content generation.
2010, a journalist working in Tulsipur FM, Narayan Khadka, received a phone
threat after the station ran a report on a local criminal gang, calling itself
the “Tigers”, which had burnt down a village school that refused to comply with
its extortion demands. Khadka sought refuge in Kathmandu
and returned to his home town only after he was assured the threat had abated.
police acknowledge that the “Tigers” have been under surveillance but have been
neutralised to a great extent.
district Police Superintendent Thakur Prasad Gyawali says that some 12 suspected
elements of the “Tigers” have already been arrested and five have been
committed to trial for extortion and kidnapping. The interrogation of another
two is proceeding.
five-member police team has been formed to investigate Dhital’s murder, said
Gyawali. More than 20 individuals have been interviewed, including the resident
of the house from which Dhital was emerging when he was attacked, the person
who accompanied him on that campaign visit, and virtually everyone who was
associated with him in his various roles, including the station manager of
Bahadur Bisht, Senior Superintendent of Police for Rapti zone, the larger jurisdiction
within which Dang district falls, is confident of resolving the case. There
have been some five murders in the district over a similar period of recent months
which have all been solved, he said. Dang is not considered to be a district of
intractable crime – like some districts in the plains bordering India – simply because criminals cannot easily escape
the jurisdiction of Nepali police by crossing into Indian
have reported that some five persons were involved in the attack on Dhital.
They were strangers to the area and had been seen there for a while prior to
the murder. As Dhital emerged from his visit to the Tulsipur home of a school teacher
and political associate, he was shot at, but not hit. He ran into a neighbouring
compound but was chased by his assailants and shot at point-blank range. He was
taken to the local hospital by his brother who arrived at the scene some 15 minutes
later. Though alive on arrival at the hospital, Dhital was declared dead
attackers meanwhile were last seen running across an agricultural field to the east
of the street where the shooting took place. Though the crime occurred in daylight
hours, none of the attackers, according to a young witness, were masked. The
sole witness and her family have since left their home in Tulsipur for fear of
February 2009, the IFJ visited the town of Janakpur
in Dhanusha district in the south-eastern plains of Nepal, where Uma Singh, a young and
dynamic journalist with the local radio station and newspaper owned by Janakpur
Today had been murdered on January 11.
case, a trail of political motives was readily apparent, with Uma Singh’s
brother and father having been abducted and possibly killed some months prior,
reportedly by local political groups seeking to seize their land-holdings in the
district adjoining Dhanusha. Uma Singh’s sister-in-law and some other
accomplices were subsequently taken into custody, though the masterminds of the
crime, both believed to be major figures in competitive ethnic politics, have since
been reportedly sheltering in India.
the third media entrepreneur killed within six months in Nepal. On February 7, Jamim Shah,
chairman of Space Time Networks, with interests in television and FM radio, was
shot dead in Kathmandu. On March 1, Arun
Singhaniya, chairman and part owner of Janakpur Today, which runs the local FM
station and newspaper that Uma Singh worked with, was gunned down in a busy
part of the town.
murder investigation has made much progress. In the case of Shah, there are
suggestions from diverse quarters that the murder was in some way the outcome
of bitter rivalry between intelligence agencies from neighbouring states, which
often make tactical and strategic use of media organisations to achieve their
armed groups – the Tarai Janatantrik Party (Madesh) and the Janatantrik Tarai
Mukti Morcha – claimed responsibility for Singhaniya’s murder. Since Nepal’s
monarchy was disestablished in a mass upsurge for democracy in 2005 – and later
overthrown – the lower southern plains of the country, or the Terai, have been an arena of bitter
political contestation. And as the constitution-writing process founders, the
area sinks into greater turmoil.
are the power-sharing arrangements in Nepal’s new republican constitution,
which ethnic groups concentrated in the Teraibelieve should restore a balance that has
historically been skewed against them. But without coherent leadership, the
movement has splintered into factions, often working at cross-purposes.
Singhaniya’s killing is believed to have been linked to his media
organisation’s editorial position on these matters. This is consistent with a
pattern of behaviour of these groups, since at least three of the five suspects
who are under arrest in the Uma Singh murder have been associated with one or
the other of the Terai militant
a grim sequel to the Janakpur murder, when Pramod Shah, director of Radio
Janakpur, was brutally assaulted at home on the evening of July 18 by a group
of about 11 persons armed with heavy rods and canes. Shah sustained deep
injuries to his head and back.
swiftly arrested three suspects and claimed that they were all under the
influence of psychotropic drugs. But there is no denying that Janakpur Today as
a media group has valid reason to consider its very existence under threat.
most economically advanced regions, the Terai has evolved swiftly into one of
the country’s most problem-ridden areas. Nepal’s far-west, and in particular
Dang district, where Dhital was murdered, has not contended with heavily
politicised criminal activity. This is part of the reason why local police are
optimistic about an early solution to Dhital’s murder.
FM station meanwhile, has resumed its regular program schedule after the
customary 13-day period of mourning for its chairman.
survived by his wife, two daughters aged 13 and eight, and his aging parents.
The IFJ extends
its deepest condolences to the bereaved family and wishes them all strength as
they seek to rebuild their lives.
information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific
on +612 9333 0919
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