Nepal media house chairman arrested over citizenship issue

May 22:  The police on Tuesday arrested Kailash Sirohiya, chairman of Kantipur Media Group (KMG), which publishes the Kantipur vernacular daily, over citizenship issues.

A team of police on Tuesday evening arrested Mr. Sirohiya from his office in Kathmandu.

Mr. Sirohiya’s detention follows an arrest warrant by Dhanusha District Court earlier on Tuesday, days after a case was filed at the Dhanusha District Police Office that there were some issues with Mr. Sirohiya’s citizenship.

Mr. Sirohiya has denied charges. In a statement, he said that he had acquired his citizenship as per the Nepali law and that he is a bonafide citizen of Nepal.

“The moment the issue had surfaced, I had made it clear through a social media post that I am open to any investigation by any competitive authority,” Mr. Sirohiya said. “But till date there has not been any single interrogation, and suddenly this arrest warrant has been issued.”

Mr. Sirohiya called the arrest an act of vengeance by Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane.

Mr. Lamichhane has been embroiled in a controversy over allegations that he misappropriated cooperative funds when he was the Managing Director of a television company, and Kantipur, a widely read Nepali language paper, has run a series of reports about him over the past few months.

In the statement, Mr. Sirohiya said that the arrest warrant was issued with the intent of blackmailing Kantipur into not publishing more reports on the issue of cooperative scam.

“The arrest warrant against me has been issued with prejudice by the government,” he said. “The Home Minister has tried to exact revenge on Kantipur.”

He also said that rather than him the authorities should be investigating Mr. Lamichhane over holding dual passports.

This is Mr. Lamichhane’s second stint as Home Minister. In January last year, he had to step down as the Home Minister after it was found that he had already relinquished his Nepali citizenship to acquire American citizenship and that he was holding dual passports — Nepali and American. He had to resign as parliamentarian as well. But in a by-election in April last year, Mr. Lamichhane won again. He was appointed the Home Minister by Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” in March this year.

Stating that even if he is arrested, Kantipur would not deviate from its responsibility of doing good journalism. “Attacks have been made on Kantipur in the past too. I was once jailed for publishing an article in the past too,” he said. “Today’s government head was leading the insurgency at that time when our paper gave space to his party’s (Maoist) views.”

Back in 2001, Mr. Sirohiya was jailed, along with then Kantipur editor Yubaraj Ghimire, for publishing an article by Dr. Baburam Bhattarai, then deputy of Prachanda.

Mr. Ghimire told The Hindu on Tuesday that the government will have to pay a huge price for arresting the chairman of a media company.

“Political responsibility is with the Home Minister whose own citizenship is in question…with Mr. Lamichhane who is engaged in politics of vendetta,” Mr. Ghimire said. “As far as my arrest, along with Mr. Sirohiya, in the past is concerned, I was very clear then that Mr. Prachanda and his party never held any respect for press freedom. He does not have that now also. And today’s arrest of Mr. Sirohiya proves that.”

The Federation of Nepali Journalists, the umbrella organisation of Nepali journalists, termed Mr. Sirohiya’s arrest an attack on the media. The Hindu.

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