Nepal journalists slam govt as media outlet owner held after corruption reports

Kantipur owner Kailash Sirohiya has termed the arrest an act of blackmail to stop his outlet from publishing more reports on corruption.

WrittenBy:NL Team
Media baron Kailash Sirohiya

After Nepalese media baron Kailash Sirohiya’s arrest in a citizenship case, several media associations and journalist groups have termed it an attack on the media in the country.

Sirohiya, who leads the Kantipur Media Group, was arrested from his office in Kathmandu on Tuesday based on a complaint that was lodged last month by a member of the governing party. The action against him follows a series of reports carried by vernacular daily Kantipur, published by KMG, about alleged embezzlement of funds by Nepal home minister Rabi Lamichhane when he led a television company. The alleged corruption case has rocked proceedings in the Nepalese legislature.

According to The Kathmandu Post, Sirohiya has denied the charges against him and expressed shock at the “arbitrary nature of warrant” since the arrest took place allegedly without any investigation. “It is clearly an act of vendetta as I am being arrested on the basis of an anonymous complaint at the wish of the Home Minister who himself faces charges of possessing two passports,” he said in a statement. He also termed it an act of “blackmail” to stop his outlet from publishing more reports against Lamichhane. 

Among the media associations that have criticised the arrest are the Federation of Nepali Journalists and Reporter’s Club Nepal. Rishi Dhamala, the founder of Reporter’s Club Nepal, said the Nepali media “is under attack”.

“The Kantipur Publications has been consistently publishing the news of Lamichhane’s alleged involvement in various scams. Lamichhane has been issuing statements to defame the Publications’ editorial leadership and the entire media sector, and hence the federation is of the opinion that Sirohiya’s arrest is vindictive,” the FNJ said in a statement.

Sudhir Sharma, the former editor-in-chief of Kantipur, wrote on X, “What was done in Kantipur yesterday is clearly a matter of revenge. The state can select Kantipur publisher Kailash Sirohia or anyone else if it deems it necessary, but the main thing is how and with what intention it is being done.”

Meanwhile, the Nepal Student Union, the student wing of the opposition party Nepali Congress, protested Sirohiya’s arrest outside the Dhanush District Court in Kathmandu on Wednesday. 

Questions about govt role

Nepalese digital outlet Setopati earlier reported that Nepal’s PM Pushpa Kamal Dahal “Prachanda” had warned Lamichhane against Sirohiya’s immediate arrest. 

However, the PM has denied that his government played a role in Sirohiya’s arrest and said he “will get away easily” in court if he is innocent. A spokesperson from his party, the Rastriya Swatantra Party, said the arrest doesn’t infringe upon press freedom. “The distinction must be made between a profit-driven private enterprise and a diligent journalist reporting news.”

But certain voices from the governing alliance have questioned the arrest. Pradeep Gyawali, deputy general secretary of the CPN-UML, has said that the state lost its composure. “There are questions on whether there was a need to arrest KMG Chairman Kailashiji,” Gyawali told Kantipur. “The state shouldn’t lose its cool while arresting any individual. It appears that the state didn’t exercise patience in this incident.”

In January last year, Lamichhane had to resign as MP and step down as the home minister after it was found that he had relinquished his Nepali citizenship to acquire American citizenship. But after a bypoll victory in April, he was again appointed the home minister.

The Hindu reported that Sirohiya was jailed along with Kantipur editor Yubaraj Ghimire for publishing an article about Prachanda’s deputy in 2001. “Political responsibility is with the Home Minister whose own citizenship is in question…with Mr. Lamichhane who is engaged in politics of vendetta,” Ghimire told the paper. “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.”

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