Nepal jails 5 former rebels for journalist's murder, torture

KATHMANDU (AFP) - A Nepalese court jailed five former Maoist rebels on Sunday over the torture and killing of a journalist, lawyers said, in the first such ruling for crimes committed during the country's civil war.

The men, all middle-ranking cadres, were convicted and sentenced to up to two years in prison over the abduction and murder in 2004 of Dekendra Raj Thapa, a radio reporter and human rights activist.

Investigations have showed that Thapa was repeatedly beaten unconscious before being buried alive during the decade-long conflict that ended in 2006.

"The court found them guilty of their involvement in the case and sentenced them to one to two years in prison," said Basanta Gautam, the lawyer for the journalist's family. Gautam had appealed for life sentences during the trial.

Rights activists slammed the sentence as too lenient, saying it set a discouraging precedent for victims and their relatives who had been hoping for harder justice from the country's criminal courts.

"We are appalled by the decision," said Mandira Sharma, a human rights lawyer and activist. "This case was representative of the crimes committed during the war... how will people trust the country's justice system now?"

Four other former Maoists accused in the case are still on the run.

The verdict is the first by the courts despite allegations of killings and torture on both sides during the conflict.

More than 16,000 people died in the civil war between Maoist rebels and government forces, but rights groups say little has been done to bring justice for those affected.

Nepal is in the process of setting up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the Disappeared, aimed at healing wounds from the conflict.