Balaram Baniya, assistant editor at Nepali newspaper Kantipur Daily, is credited with breaking the news in June that China has encroached village Rui, that falls under the Gorkha district in Nepal.
On August 11, Tuesday, Baniya was found dead on the banks of Bagmati River near the Mando Hydropower Project in Makawanpur. He had reportedly gone missing a day earlier after which his family had lodged a complaint with the police.
His death has caused consternation among Nepali journalists and press unions have called for an independent investigation into the cause of his death. These include the Federation of Nepali Journalists (FNJ), Freedom Forum (FF) and the Nepal Press Union (NPU), all of who seek <a href="https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/fnj-journalists-organisations-call-death-mysterious-demand-investigation/"><strong>a credible investigation</strong> </a>into the circumstances leading to the journalist's death.
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After his news on Chinese encroachment of the Rui village became public, both Baniya and the newspaper came under pressure. The newspaper had to issue an apology and Baniya was suspended for a brief while. His news had created a stir as other <a href="https://www.sundayguardianlive.com/news/china-salami-sliced-entire-nepal-village"><strong>media organisations picked it up</strong> </a>and conducted their own investigations.
His report put China in an embarrassing position as it highlighted the communist country's policy of encroaching upon borderlands of other nations, including friendly ones. <a href="https://thehimalayantimes.com/nepal/what-does-the-pm-have-to-say-about-encroachment-by-china/"><strong>The Nepali media also questioned</strong> </a>their Prime Minister over encroachments by China and some of the lawmakers raised the issue publicly.
Baniya's news in June about the Chinese encroachments created unease among the Chinese and Nepali leadership at a moment when the two countries were tom-tomming about their relationship. It was published at a time when China was deeply embroiled in a territorial dispute with India.
Baniya's death has created a flutter and led to much speculation. In a press release, FNJ has said: “We demand that the government investigate and make public the truth about the mysterious death of the journalist.”
The NPU said Baniya’s death remains shrouded in mystery as there is a deep cut in his head. “There are suspicions surrounding his death.” NPU general secretary Ajaya Babu Shiwakoti said, “His death could be linked with daring news stories that he filed.”
Baniya was known to be highly professional and an upright journalist. <a href="https://kathmandupost.com/national/2020/08/12/kantipur-journalist-balram-baniya-passes-away"><strong><em>The Kathmandu Post</em> </strong></a>has written a detailed account of his journalistic integrity and dedication to his work. He was also a former secretary of the FNJ.
The journalist's death may or may not be related to the Chinese encroachment but suspicion lingers. It also throws up the uncomfortable relationship that comes bundled with a China friendship. The Nepali media, independent and spunky, had earlier in the year experienced a run-in with the Chinese embassy, forcing 17 editors to issue <a href="https://kathmandupost.com/2/2020/02/19/nepali-editors-condemn-chinese-embassy-s-statement-regarding-the-post"><strong>a public statement</strong> </a>condemning the Chinese embassy for threatening Nepali journalists and interfering in the working of a free media.
The Chinese embassy had released an <a href="http://np.chineseembassy.org/eng/News/t1746464.htm"><strong>intimidatory statement</strong> </a>on an opinion piece carried by <em>The Kathmandu Post</em> on February 18, 2020, criticizing China's efforts on the coronavirus which spread worldwide from its epicentre in Wuhan. In a threatening message, the Chinese embassy said: " It is regrettable that Mr. Anup Kaphle, Chief Editor of <em>The Kathmandu Post</em>, has always been biased on China-related issues. This time he went as far as disregarding the facts and becoming a parrot of some anti-China forces and, therefore, his ulterior purpose is destined to failure. The Chinese Embassy in Nepal has made solemn representations to the newspaper and himself and reserves the right of further action."
China manages to rake up controversies even in Nepal—currently a strong ally. Despite the latter's best efforts to keep China-related disquieting news away from the limelight, the Chinese keep riling up Nepal by virtue of their expansionist and extravagant claims.
<strong><a href="https://eurasiantimes.com/after-claiming-mount-everest-china-now-says-mount-qomolangma-is-located-on-nepal-china-border/">It struck another discordant note</a> </strong>recently when the China Global Television Network (CGTN) claimed on May 2 that, 'Mount Chomolungma, also known as Mount Everest, is located in China’s Tibet'. After an uproar on social media by Nepali citizens, the CGTN deleted the tweet and replaced it with a more palatable, "…Mt Qomolangma, the highest peak in the world, is located on the Nepal-China border," still not acknowledging the universal name Mount Everest, by which the tallest peak is known.
An impartial investigation into Balaram Baniya's death may put to rest the speculation around his demise but his investigation into the Chinese encroachment in Nepal, a friendly country, may not fade away easily..