Prachanda under pressure after media house attack

December 22nd, 2008 - 3:06 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Dec 22 (IANS) Nepal’s ruling Maoist party Monday faced growing public condemnation after a media house was attacked allegedly by its labour unions, forcing party chief and Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda to deny his men’s involvement and promise an investigation.Condemnation started pouring in after a group of people Sunday stormed the office of Himal Media, a media house that publishes two magazines and a weekly tabloid, smashed furniture and window panes and assaulted several staff members.

The attack was allegedly led by two labour unions affiliated to the Maoists over critical reports about the fresh militant trade union movement in Nepal.

Human rights activists, including a lawmaker nominated by the Maoists themselves, met Prachanda Monday, expressing concern at the attack and the rise in trade union strong-arm tactics.

Facing censure from the very people who had supported the Maoist-led pro-democracy movement against former king Gyanendra’s absolute rule two years ago, Prachanda sought to distance his party from the incident, saying it was perpetrated by criminal elements who had infiltrated the party.

Prachanda also said his government would order an investigation and bring the guilty to justice.

Denials and announcing investigations have been the standard operating procedure of the Maoist government since it came to power four months ago.

So far, however, none of the Maoists perpetrators involved in violence, including several murders, have even been arrested, let alone be punished.

The Federation of Nepalese Journalists, the powerful umbrella of mediapersons that had played a key role in toppling Gyanendra’s regime, issued a tough statement Monday. It said that if the reign of impunity was not brought to an end immediately, the guilty punished and victims paid compensation, it would begin a protest movement.

Asking not to politicise an attack on the press, the federation called a protest rally in the capital during the day to pressure the government.

Further pressure came from the US government and the UN, both of whom condemned the attack.

“We condemn the violent attack as a blatant, illegal assault on freedom of the press in Nepal,” the US Embassy said in a statement Monday. “It was a criminal act (and) the perpetrators must be held accountable.”

Urging police to investigate the incident and press charges against the perpetrators, the statement said there was “no justification for the use of violence and intimidation by any party or organisation in an attempt to control the media or threaten freedom of the press”.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal called the attack the latest in a series of assaults against the media in the country and urged the government to “take all steps necessary to ensure that the media has a secure environment in which to do its work”.

Under fire from all sides, the Maoists Monday sought to defend themselves, trying to blame the media house.

The Maoist mouthpiece Janadisha daily claimed that the organisation had been sacking employees affiliated to the party and had instigated Sunday’s violence after calling the group to talks.

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