Nepali Times Asian Paints
Shooting the messenger

Most of us in the media never had any illusions about the Maoists' democratic credentials. But we were willing to give their political agenda the benefit of doubt because most of their original 40-points for a structural overhaul of Nepali society had merit.

We never agreed with their methods, however, and we have always said so. No end ever justifies such wanton slaughter, especially when the democratic space (however flawed) was available.

The Nepali media has fulfilled its professional obligations by airing the Maoists' political demands and making them a matter of public debate. And it has not shirked from exposing their gross abuses of human rights. This has been largely possible because of the brave and committed journalists in the field who have risked their lives to get the truth out.

Unlike the journalists in the capital who are relatively protected, district reporters are vulnerable to threats, intimidation and pressures from both the Maoists and state security. They have to tread a fine line while reporting human rights violations, and have often done that without sacrificing the truth.

In the past year, the threats to reporters have increased in direct proportion to the intensification of the conflict. There has been a lot of unnecessary harassment of journalists by security forces in the field, and the state has killed more journalists in the past four years than the rebels. Krishna Sen worked for a Maoist mouthpiece and Dekendra Thapa worked for state radio, neither deserved to die.

Even though the Maoist leadership pays lip service to press freedom from time to time, its field-level cadre do not waste time in such niceties. They tolerate reporters only as long as their dispatches are favourable. This is a deliberate two-track policy.

By killing Dekendra Thapa earlier this month the Maoists showed that they don't even bother with politically-correct rhetoric anymore. Their Talibanesque threat to chop off the hands of other journalists who refuse to toe the party line is further proof of a dangerously fanatical streak.

The brutal murders of unarmed village elders, elected grassroot leaders, social workers, teachers, businessmen, anyone who don't agree with the rebels or refuse to pay 'donations' are acts of cowardice. When a movement has to resort to such unconscionable cruelty it means it has lost the power of argument. Using such brutality to impose one's will is not only immoral, it is also an incorrect interpretation of revolutionary dialectics.

The regional Maoist leadership in the midwest is reported to have said that killing Thapa was a 'mistake' and it won't do it again. That falls short of an apology. This contrition also didn't originate from the central leadership as it should have.

While the killing of one of our own has set off understandable anger in the profession, we must add that it focuses our grief and outrage even more at the senseless loss of thousands of other innocent Nepali lives in this conflict.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)