Friday 23 March 2018

Briton detained in Nepal released after anti-government protest arrest

Supporters of Nepal's minority ethnic group protest outside the prime minister's office in Kathmandu (AP)
Supporters of Nepal's minority ethnic group protest outside the prime minister's office in Kathmandu (AP)
Martin Travers was photographed at the Nepalese protest, authorities say

A British man detained in Nepal over his alleged participation in an anti-government protest has been released.

Martin Travers, 41, a British painter who is in the country on a tourist visa, will have to report back to police for more questioning after he was detained as a result of being photographed wearing a red headband like other protesters.

If authorities determine he participated willingly in the anti-government protest, he is expected to be be deported, ministry official Yadav Koirala said.

The Briton's arrest comes two weeks after a Canadian man was expelled from Nepal for writing a critical social media post that the government said could disturb social harmony.

The detentions have sparked concerns over the Himalayan country's democracy, and suggest that the fragile coalition government is increasingly alarmed by ethnic minorities' demonstrations against the new constitution.

Mr Koirala said: "Foreign nationals who come to Nepal need to respect our laws. When they are here under a tourist visa, they should be tourists. Or if they have a work visa, they should be working."

He said Nepal and other countries clearly state when giving out visas that visitors should not be involved in anti-government activities.

Rights groups said authorities were going too far in punishing foreigners for speaking out on Nepalese political issues.

Taranath Dahal of the Kathmandu-based Freedom Forum, said: "Every human being in the country should enjoy basic rights," said. Being denied expression is a violation of their basic human rights."

Until this month, such detentions were rare in Nepal, where free speech is guaranteed by law. Criticism of the government is also nothing new from the multi-ethnic and largely impoverished population of 27 million.

Since Nepal abolished its monarchy and became a parliamentary democracy in 2006, inflation has doubled to 12% while the economy has stagnated, and reconstruction after a set of massive earthquakes last year has barely made progress.

Prime Minister Khadga Prasad Oli's government struggled for months with protests led by ethnic Madhesis that blocked shipments at the southern border with India, leading to clashes that killed at least 50 people and caused severe shortages of fuel, medicine and other supplies.

Those protests ended in February, but resumed over the weekend with huge rallies in Kathmandu.

Earlier this month, Mr Oli's 11-party governing coalition nearly collapsed when one member - the United Communist Party of Nepal - threatened to withdraw support over Mr Oli's failure to resolve the constitutional impasse with ethnic minorities.

Observers worry the government, still under threat, may be cracking down on dissent in a bid to maintain control.

Editor of the country's popular Nagarik newspaper, Guna Raj Luitel, said: "Our government is becoming more intolerant and feeling threatened by these protests.

"Writing on social media or being present at a protest rally is not a big enough deal to be arrested or deported. People should be able to voice their opinions no matter what."

The Canadian man deported on May 5, Robert Penner, filed a lawsuit against the government's department of immigration just before he left. That case is to be heard by the country's Supreme Court on May 22, according to his lawyer.

Press Association

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