UNESCO chief speaks out against brutal murder of Nepalese journalist, activist

19 January 2009

The head of the United Nations agency tasked with defending press freedom has condemned the murder earlier this month in Nepal of Uma Singh, a journalist and activist, characterizing the killing as “a blow to Nepalese society as a whole.”

Ms. Singh, 26, was a reporter at Radio Today FM and member of the Women’s Human Rights Defenders in the southern district of Dhanusha. She was attacked on 11 January in her own home in Janakpur, over 200 km from the capital Kathmandu, by 15 men who attacked her repeatedly with “khukhuris” – curved knives traditional to Nepal.

“If Nepal is to uphold the two basic human rights of freedom of expression and equal rights of men and women, it will need to bring the culprits of this crime to justice,” said UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNECO)Director-General Koïchiro Matsuura.

The slain journalist, who also worked for the daily newspaper Janakpur Today, was noted for her articles criticizing the dowry system, a widespread tradition in the Asian nation, whereby families pay large sums of money and give land to men their daughters marry.

Last week, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Nepal (OHCHR-Nepal) urged Nepal Police to identify those responsible for Ms. Singh’s death and bring them to justice.

It stressed that taking urgent action will send a strong message that there will be no impunity for attacks against the media, calling on all segments of Nepalese society to respect the freedom of opinion and journalists’ rights.

The murder of Ms. Singh is the latest in a troubling trend of attacks targeting media professionals in Nepal over recent months.

“Occurring amid a growing number of reports of incidents targeting journalists throughout Nepal, this tragedy should galvanise those responsible for protection of media freedom to take the necessary action to ensure the security of journalists,” said OHCHR-Nepal Representative Richard Bennett in a press release issued on 12 January.

Last October, several people reportedly raided the office of the local Terai Times newspaper in Janakpur, where they assaulted staff and damaged and stole equipment after the publication of a news article suggesting that the Young Communist League (YCL) was providing protection for prostitution.

In another incident, a journalist from a daily newspaper in Nepalgunj informed OHCHR that he had been verbally abused and threatened on 21 October by a local government official of Banke district, following publication of an article that alleged financial irregularities linked to a local construction project.


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