I woke up on 20 January to news about an attack on a vehicle carrying newspapers in Siraha. As I left home to cover the strike called by the UCPN (Maoist)-led alliance, I mulled over whether the strike enforcers would keep their words and allow press vehicles to move freely.
I put on the green jacket worn by photojournalists and hung my press card around my neck so I could easily be identified as press. With my gears intact, I left on my scooter to begin the day.
The roads were fairly empty early morning. Nepal Police personnel stood guard around the restricted area near the CA building. A group of protestors led by UCPN (Maoist) leaders Agni Sapkota and Renu Dahal were checking tourist buses and vehicles of diplomatic missions at Bijuli Bajar.
As I made my way through central Kathmandu, the roads started to fill up with more protestors. When I reached Koteshwor someone shouted: “Attack that scooter.” Fortunately, no one did and I moved on.
Around 11AM, I was on my way back to the Himalmedia office when I was stopped at Bijuli Bajar. The peaceful crowd that I had seen earlier had now turned wild. Led by UCPN (Maoist) leader Hisila Yami, the group was trying to force their way towards New Baneshwor.
Clad in a t-shirt with Nepal’s flag on it, Yami was shouting slogans with the crowd. Seeing a political leader of her stature there gave me a sense of security. After all her husband Baburam Bhattarai has repeatedly advocated for press freedom, condemning the recent attack on French journalists last week. I took some photographs and tried to move forward when all of a sudden the crowd began to attack me. Someone kicked my scooter and the assault began. Another person snatched my id and tore it to pieces.”Can’t you walk? Your scooter should be burned,” shouted another angry protestor who continued to vandalise my scooter.
I was shocked and kept quiet. My silence however seemed to anger them more as they began verbally abusing me. Cameraperson Shrijana Kuikel and Reporter Sharmila Thapa of Mountain TV also were also misbehaved in front of Yami. I later learnt that two other journalists had been assaulted and two motorcycles had been torched in the same place. Sub-inspector Khagendra Bhatta of the Armed Police Force also sustained some injuries while trying to protect a journalist.
I managed to slip away from the crowd, but the look and the words of the attacker didn’t leave me. So, after I reported at the office, I went back in search of him. I found him chanting slogans at Bijuli Bazar. He seemed to have no recollection me because when I pointed my camera at him, he posed for a photo. I learned that his name was Rajan Gautam and he was a former central committee member of YCL and member of UCPN (Maoist) from Nuwakot. He had been arrested multiple times for kidnapping and homicide.
Dangers in situations like these are granted for journalists like us. But when I see people claiming to be revolutionary resort to such behavior, I question whether they really are capable of leading a country towards a brighter future.
(Bista is a photo journalist with Himalmedia)
Click here for original article.