Attacks on journalists aren’t uncommon in Nepal. The country ranks seventh in a list of 13 countries released this month by Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based organization, where “journalists are slain and killers go free”.
But the murderous attack on a reporter earlier this month in the eastern town of Biratnagar has rattled the corridors of power, questioned the government’s commitment in protecting press freedom and put the spotlight on Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal.
Khilanath Dhakal who writes for Nagarik, a national daily and its sister publication Republica was targeted by members of Youth Force, the youth wing of Communist Party of Nepal (United Marxist Leninist), the party headed by the prime minister.
The reason behind the attack is stated to be Dhakal’s reporting about an attack by YF cadres on a police team in a district court a day earlier. The reporter who sustained grievous injuries all over his body would have been killed had he not managed to escape and seek police security.
The incident has evoked condemnation from all including the UN human rights office in Nepal. A parliamentary committee has also directed the government to nab all accused. Three of them have been arrested but the main accused, Parshuram Basnet, the district chief of YF, is still free.
A report prepared by Federation of Nepali Journalists, the umbrella body of all working journalists in Nepal, concluded Basnet had masterminded the attack. But even as Dhakal recuperates on a hospital bed, the YF leader enjoys political protection.
Such is the level of lawlessness that home minister Krishna Bahadur Mahara sought the PM’s help in nabbing Basnet while the YF president publicly claimed that the main accused is staying with him and dared the police to put him (Basnet) behind bars.
There are now reports that instead of arresting Basnet there is immense political pressure on the police and the local district administration not to name him as accused in the court attack incident and also the attempted murder of Dhakal.
That too isn’t uncommon in Nepal—where impunity seems institutionalized. After all the present PM appears helpless, the information minister faces charge of murdering a teacher and the home minister allegedly sought money from a ‘Chinese friend’ to bribe lawmakers.