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Journalists, aid workers and rights activists under threat

Journalists have been attacked and aid workers and human rights activists threatened in the continued unrest in Nepal’s south-eastern Terai region.

The Madhesi People’s Rights Forum (MPRF) has been spearheading demonstrations in the region for the past 20 days against the Nepalese government with demands for more political rights and a greater autonomy for the Madhesi people — the predominant ethnic community of the Terai.

On Sunday morning, five local journalists covering the demonstration were seriously injured after they were attacked by protestors in the Tanka Sinabari area near Biratnagar city, some 600km east of the capital, Kathmandu. The media workers were accused of negatively portraying the demonstrations in their reports.

The journalists were deliberately attacked by a huge crowd of protestors, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), a national media watchdog, said.

''The situation is becoming very dangerous for journalists and the attacks against them are a serious violation of the right to press freedom.''

“The situation is becoming very dangerous for journalists and the attacks against them are a serious violation of the right to press freedom,” said Shiva Gauli, FNJ’s vice president and a prominent journalist.

In the past 20 days of demonstrations, protestors have assaulted 17 journalists, attacked five media offices, driven 15 journalists out of their workplaces after threatening to kill them, forcefully closed down 34 newspapers and vandalised 12 vehicles belonging to different media outlets.

“The attack on the journalists is already causing serious concern over the difficulty in getting access to information,” Mahendra Bista, FNJ general secretary, said.

The Madhesi protestors are reportedly targeting those who are or look like Nepalese of hill origin, also known as ‘Pahadis’, because the government is dominated by Pahadis.

The Madhesi are Nepalis of Indian origins who belong to the Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist faiths. They are all the more important because they live along Nepal's long southern border with India, and make up around one third of Nepal's population of about 27 million.

Aid workers are unable to travel to southeastern villages and towns to carry out their humanitarian and development work as they face similar risks as journalists.

“Our field movements have been severely affected and we are worried about how to continue with our work in villages where we run poverty reduction and income-generation projects for the poorest communities,” said Ram Sharan Sedhai, a senior officer from Action Aid Nepal, one of the country’s largest NGOs.

Sedhai added that protestors are accusing NGOs of not investing enough on the Madhesi, but rather more on the Pahadis.

“There is already a crisis for many workers as we don’t know who will be attacked at any time,” Sedhai said.

''The situation is becoming really scary for rights defenders and they are now unsafe to even identify themselves as rights monitors.''

Unrest in the Terai region is getting worse because of constant strikes, curfews and violent demonstrations. And the impact is already being felt in the hill and mountain areas where road access for supplies is only possible through the Terai.

“There has already been a slow down of humanitarian work due to the tensions in the Terai. There are concerns for the security of aid workers as their organisations have been accused [by the Madhesi leaders] of diverting much of their funds to the hills,” said Joerg Frieden, country director of Swiss Development Corporation (SDC), one of the largest aid agencies operating in Nepal with an annual budget of US $17 million.

Human rights activists have also been threatened. Although they have not been physically assaulted, they say access for rights monitoring is becoming increasingly difficult.

“The situation is becoming really scary for rights defenders and they are now unsafe to even identify themselves as rights monitors,” said Rameswar Nepal, country director of Amnesty International (AI), an international rights watchdog.


Read more
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Saraswati Devi Gupta, “It won’t take long for us to run out of food and medicine”
Violence stops access to hospitals in south

This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

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