Nepal newspapers run without editorials in protest over assault

Major newspapers across Nepal Tuesday came out with a blank space where editorial columns usually run in a sign of escalating tension between journalists and supporters of the ruling Maoist party, dpa reported.

Nepalese newspapers decided to leave blank space for the editorials in protest against an assault on journalists and a media house by Maoist supporters earlier in the week.

Private television and radio stations also joined the protest by not broadcasting headlines in their regular news.

The Media Society and Editor's Alliance, an umbrella body of newspaper publishers and editors, warned of more protests if the Maoist-led government did not take action against the vandals.

"This is the first in a series of escalating protests that our media houses will launch if the current organized attacks on us by groups affiliated to the ruling party are not stopped," the Media Society said.

On Sunday, members of the Maoist trade union attacked Himal Media which publishes a range of newspapers and fortnightly magazines, for allegedly writing news critical of Maoist-aligned organizations.

Several journalists and Himal Media staff were injured and the offices vandalized by the Maoist cadres.

"We feel enough is enough," the society said in a statement. "We feel the attack on Himal and other media houses represents a serious threat to press freedom, democracy and pluralism in the country."

The latest action by Nepalese newspapers and television stations represents a serious escalation of tensions between the Maoist-led government and journalists which have had uneasy relations since the Maoists gave up violence and joined the political mainstream two years ago.

Nepal's largest-circulation newspaper Kantipur reported that the Maoist-aligned trade union had issued renewed threats against the newspaper for publishing news critical of the union.

Another broadsheet daily, Himalayan Times, also reported that Maoist activists assaulted its staff after they tried to take down a banner put up by Maoist supporters at their office.

The Maoists have regularly targeted journalists during their decade-long insurgency to convert Nepal into a communist republic.

They have also been accused of intimidating journalists to halt news critical of their organizations.

The Maoist-led government was sworn in earlier this year after emerging as the biggest single party in the constituent assembly elections.

Despite leading the government, there have been widespread accusations that the Maoists have not changed their behaviour and are continuing their extortion and intimidation.

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