‘Attack on Shahi a severe blow to freedom of expression’

Even regressive forces should be punished as per the law

Kathmandu, September 29

Police still have not been able to arrest those who launched attack on Gyanendra Shahi, an anti-corruption campaigner, in Chitwan yesterday, prompting rights activists and opposition politicians to harbour suspicion that the government may be deliberately trying to gag those who speak against it.

Shahi, who runs ‘Nepalis for Nepal’ campaign, was allegedly attacked by cadres associated with the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP).

So far police have not received any first information report in the case, according to Superintendent of Police Dan Bahadur Malla of Chitwan District Police Office. “Yet we are using different sources to identity and nab the culprits. I hope to arrest the attackers soon,” Malla said.

The attack on Shahi and the inability to round up the perpetrators have provoked outrage across the country with many saying the latest episode has dealt a severe blow to freedom of expression.

“Governments have a tendency to silence their political opponents. This government also seems to be resorting to this tactic. This is dangerous for democracy,” Freedom Forum Executive Director Taranth Dahal said, urging all public figures, including political leaders and role models, “to refrain from using provocative language, as it could incite violence like in Chitwan yesterday”.

Human rights activist Charan Prasai referred to the attack as “state terror” if it was “launched by NCP cadres”.

“The government and the NCP should send a clear message to everyone, including its own cadres, that those who engage in violence would not be spared,” Prasai said. “Otherwise, clashes could erupt between ruling and opposition forces in the future.”

Some of the NCP cadres were miffed at Shahi as he had confronted Minister of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation Yogesh Bhattarai for delaying a Kathmandu-bound flight from Nepalgunj earlier this month. This incident gave bad press to Bhattarai.

Later, some of the NCP cadres accused Shahi of deliberately trying to defame Bhattarai “as he was a mandale (a term coined by democratic forces to denote Panchayat supporters who attacked democratic leaders during single-party Panchayat regime)”.

“One cannot beat up mandales just because they beat up democratic forces in the past. In democracy, even regressive forces should be controlled or punished in accordance with the law. This is the difference between autocracy/fascism and democracy. Are our comrades sliding into social fascism?” questioned Samajwadi Party-Nepal Chairperson Baburam Bhattarai through his twitter post.

Nepali Congress leader Gagan Kumar Thapa said the attack on Shahi was a serious cause of concern, as it was launched on the flimsy pretext of him being a ‘royalist’. “These developments fortify NC’s views that the government is becoming autocratic,” Thapa said. THT tried to contact NCP spokesperson multiple times to get the party’s official view on the incident, but could not. The party has not issued any statement on the issue yet.