Off the hook

Print edition : September 01, 2001

THE Government of Nepal has decided to drop the charges of sedition brought against Yuvraj Ghimire, and three senior employees of Kantipur, the largest circulated daily newspaper in the Nepali language. Ghimire, who has a long and meritorious track record in journalism in India, England and his home country of Nepal, was arrested along with three of his colleagues in the organisation after the newspaper published an article by Baburam Bhattarai, a senior theoretician of the Maoist guerillas who are currently battling the government.

In the opinion piece, Bhattarai alluded to an Indian-and-American hand in the death of King Birendra and his family.

Although there were very few takers for the version, a figment of Bhattarai's imagination, the government, then under Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala, arrested Ghimire and his colleagues on the charge of sedition. If convicted, they would have faced rigorous imprisonment lasting up to three years.

The popular outcry in Nepal against their incarceration, coupled with protests from international media groups and human rights activists, forced the Koirala government to backtrack. Ghimire and his colleagues were released on bail after a week in jail but the sedition charges were not withdrawn.

Ghimire, while expressing happiness at the turn of events, told Frontline that the new Prime Minister, Sher Bahadur Deuba, was among the first politicians in the ruling Nepali Congress to oppose the arrests. Another Nepali Congress leader and former Prime Minister, K.P. Bhattarai, also criticised the draconian action by the Koirala government and asked it to "apologise" to the Nepali people for the arrests.

Many in Nepal think that Kantipur was targeted because of the investigative stories it had published. Some of the news stories published in the paper had exposed corruption at the highest levels. Eventually, Koirala left office under a cloud.

It was, therefore, no surprise that the government decided not to press charges against Ghimire after Deuba took over as Prime Minister. Ghimire said that the decision reflected the Deuba government's belief in the freedom of expression. It is expected that the court will formally close the sedition case during the next hearing.

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