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Why Kailash Sirohiya’s arrest is unjust

The arrest was not necessary in the first place. Even if it was warranted, did his alleged crime demand such a lengthy detention?

Kailash Sirohiya adresses the press after being arrested from Kantipur Publications premises

Five days have passed since Kailash Sirohiya, publisher of Kantipur Publications, was unjustly arrested. The stench of political vendetta hangs heavy in the air, masking the flimsy justification of alleged dual citizenship. This is not a coincidence; it’s a calculated move to silence the media’s commitment to exposing truth to power.

This coincidence is no accident, but it reeks of hypocrisy. Sirohiya’s arrest follows a series of investigative reports by Kantipur, meticulously detailing alleged financial improprieties involving Deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane. These reports accused Lamichhane of embezzling cooperatives funds by the Gorkha Media Network during his tenure as a managing director at the media company.

Sirohiya faces a hollow accusation, while Lamichhane’s case lingers in court—a glaring inconsistency that screams of a vendetta, not justice. The accusation of dual citizenship, even if true, feels like a flimsy pretext to silence a critical voice.

Nepal’s Citizenship Act has clear procedures for addressing such discrepancies. Legal processes exist, and due course could have been followed in Kathmandu, where Sirohiya was arrested. However, the orchestration of this arrest paints a stark picture. He was dramatically whisked away from his office in Kathmandu to Dhanusha, a district hundreds of kilometers away, for what appears to be a trumped-up charge. This orchestrated drama underscores the true motive: to intimidate and harass a media institution that dares to hold the powerful accountable.

The length of Sirohiya’s detention further underscores the motive. The arrest was not necessary in the first place. Even if an arrest was warranted, was transferring him to Dhanusha a logical step? Did his alleged crime demand such a lengthy detention? This raises serious questions about the true purpose of this entire process.

This assault on press freedom has reverberated far beyond Nepal’s borders. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and Amnesty International have all rightfully condemned Sirohiya’s arrest. The international voices, however, need to be amplified by civil society at home demanding an immediate release and an unwavering commitment to a free press.

Sadly, the response from Nepal’s civil society has been disappointingly muted. This silence exposes a worrying division within the ranks of those who should be the staunchest defenders of democracy. Is Nepal’s civil society shrinking in space, or is it grounded in fear? Their indifference raises troubling questions about their internal divisions and commitment to defending basic freedoms. This speaks volumes about the fragility of Nepal’s democratic institutions.

One cannot deny the fact that Kantipur Publications has a long and distinguished history of holding those in power accountable. It is one of the country’s largest media houses promoting investigative journalism and its unwavering commitment to truth-telling. Sirohiya’s arrest is not just an attack on an individual; it’s an attack on the legacy of independent journalism that is vital to a country’s democracy.

Nepal stands at a crossroads. Will it succumb to the allure of authoritarian tactics, where critical voices are silenced, and dissent criminalized? Or will it rise to the challenge of upholding the fundamental tenets of a free press—a cornerstone of any thriving democracy?

The answer lies not just with the government, but with the Nepali people and civil society. They must demand the immediate release of Kailash Sirohiya. They must stand guard against the erosion of press freedom, a right that safeguards all other rights. The international community must continue to pressure the authorities to adhere to democratic principles.

The accusation of dual citizenship, even if true, feels like a flimsy pretext to silence a critical voice.

This blatant disregard for due process becomes even more egregious when compared to similar cases. The Parliament secretariat continued to function even though the general secretary, Padma Prasad Pandey, held two citizenships. Home Minister Lamichhane himself faces unresolved questions about his own citizenship. Former Chief Justice Gopal Parajuli had discrepancies in his citizenship documents, yet none faced arrest. Were these individuals shielded because of their Pahadi ethnicity or political connections? Does Nepal’s justice system only apply to Sirohiya here? This inconsistency exposes a troubling pattern of selective prosecution—perhaps based on caste or political affiliation.

Nepal’s Citizenship Act has provisions for correcting such mistakes. Why wasn’t this course of action offered to Sirohiya, while others enjoyed such leniency?

Let this be a wake-up call for Nepal. The world is watching, and the future of Nepali democracy hangs in the balance. It’s about the right of every citizen to hold their government accountable, to be informed, and to have their voices heard.

Praveen Kumar Yadav is a researcher writing on the issues of development and human rights.