Kathmandu : Condemnation started pouring in from Nepal’s media organisations Tuesday after Maoist guerrillas finally admitted to killing missing journalist Birendra Shah, whose abduction had led to nationwide protests.
Under mounting pressure after journalists went on the warpath demanding that the government and rebels disclose the whereabouts of Shah, a stringer with Avenues television station and private radio station Nepal FM, a three-member team formed by the Maoists to look into the incident finally said Monday that Shah had been killed by three cadres.
However, in a bid to distance themselves from the killing, the guerrillas said the killing was a “personal vendetta” and not ordered by the Maoist party.
On Oct 5, Shah and his companion, Ramdev Das, were abducted at gunpoint from a busy market in Bara district in the Terai plains.
The Maoist “investigation” admitted that the abduction was ordered by its top leader in the district, Lal Bahadur Chaudhary.
Two more Maoists, Kundan Fauzdar and Ram Iqbal Sahani, who carried out the abduction, let Das go but took Shah to a nearby forest, shot him dead and buried the body.
However, Hari Bhakta Mandal, aka Prateek, the Maoist leader who led the so-called investigation, claimed that the killing was prompted by personal animosity between Chaudhary and Shah and was against the principles of the Maoist party.
All three Maoists involved in the murder have been reportedly expelled from the party.
However, their whereabouts are still unknown. Bara residents say police did not arrest them for fear of the Maoists and the men are now hiding in India.
The admission, after a month of evasion, lies and hollow promises by both Maoists and Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, outraged Nepal’s media, that had in the past played a major role in recording human rights abuse and bringing the downfall of King Gyanendra’s regime.
Enraged journalists shut down Nuwakot district in central Nepal Tuesday to condemn the killing while protest marches began across the country.
“We are stunned, grieved and outraged,” said the Federation of Nepalese Journalists, one of the biggest media organisations in Nepal.
“It is not just an attack on press freedom, human rights and democracy but against humanity.”
“We condemn the Maoists’ grandiose talking in the name of people’s rights and the government’s failure to provide security,” the Broadcasting Association of Nepal said.
“If the Maoists had understood the importance of news and ordered its cadres not to intervene and if the government had shown concern in protecting the lives of citizens and journalists, Shah would not have died.”
Nepal FM said it would go off the air for a minute in the afternoon to express grief.
Media groups are demanding that the culprits be immediately punished and Shah’s family compensated.
Shah’s wife Umrawati made a harrowing journey to Kathmandu last week with her eight-year-old son and six-year-old daughter, trying to meet all top politicians in a desperate bid to find out her missing husband’s fate.
Both Koirala and Maoist supremo Prachanda had promised the weeping Umrawati that Shah’s fate would be revealed in 72 hours.
However, the pledge remained unfulfilled, triggering nationwide protests by journalists.
Shah’s murder both shows how the Maoist cadres are spiralling out of control and the government is ignoring the growing violence in its preoccupation with survival.
Even as Shah’s murder came to light, another frantic wife began a search in far west Nepal for her missing husband.
Prakash Thakuri, a journalist in Kanchanpur, has been missing for five months now.