Situation Report: Few Leads in Investigation of Nepal Radio Operator’s Murder

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.


Dhital, 42,

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.


“Coming in

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.


At the

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.


Early in

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

Tulsipur FM.



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

shortly afterwards.



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

their lives.



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.


In that

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.


Dhital is

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



Two local

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.


At issue

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



There was

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.


The police

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.



among Nepal’s

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.


Dhital is

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.


For further

information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific

on +612 9333 0919



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