Nepal's home minister vs the media

A publisher’s arrest sparks concern that Nepal’s politicians are using revenge tactics to silence the press

Kantipur Media Group Chairman Kailash Sirohiya was arrested from his office in Thapathali on Tuesday. Photo: SUMAN NEPALI

Nepal’s Home Minister Rabi Lamichhane was embroiled in a controversy over his US citizenship during his first stint last year. Now, he is using his position to go after Kailash Sirohiya, the publisher of Nepal’s largest media company, over his citizenship. 

A police team arrested Sirohiya from the office of Kantipur Media Group in Kathmandu on Tuesday after an arrest warrant was issued against him by Dhanusha District Court after a complaint was filed against him for holding multiple citizenships.

The media tycoon responded angrily before being taken away for his court proceedings in Dhanusha, saying the arrest warrant was to exact revenge on Kantipur for exposing Home Minister Lamichhane’s alleged involvement in siphoning off deposits from a cooperative into his tv channel. 

The Home Minister is said to have given Sirohiya’s arrest the go-head despite Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal's reluctance. On Wednesday, the Dhanusha District Court remanded Sirohiya to a three-day custody as the police investigates the issue of his citizenship. 

Nepal’s civil society and the public have expressed concern over the manner of Sirohiya’s arrest after he was taken directly into custody after a complaint was filed. Nepal’s public sphere is also abuzz about how Lamichhane himself was never arrested for revelations about his own US citizenship last year. 

Lamichhane is from the independent RSP that is the fourth largest party in Parliament, and his supporters praised him on social media for ‘holding the rich and powerful to account’, and accused Kanitpur of being a mouthpiece of politicians.

Editors of Nepal’s mainstream media wrote to Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal on Wednesday, stating that Sirohiya’s arrest was driven by political vendetta and intended to put pressure on the press and silence criticism.

During the editors’ meeting with the prime minister,  Dahal is said to have taken responsibility for directing law enforcement to arrest Sirohiya as per the court’s arrest warrant. 

editors with PM
Editors of Nepal's mainstream press reading out their letter to Prime Minister Dahal on Wednesday condemning the detention of Kantipur publisher Kailash Sirohiya.

Nepal’s opposition politicians, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists and the Nepal chapter of the International Press Institute, as well as the US Embassy in Kathmandu have censured the decision to detain Nepal’s most prominent publisher, calling it anti-democratic and an attack on press freedom. 

‘Freedom of the press, accountability, and transparency are guiding principles for the United States as we continue to work towards “a more perfect union”,’ wrote the US Embassy on X. ‘We expect that as Nepal continues to shape its hard-won democracy, the Government and the people of Nepal also have a meaningful dialogue about how to ensure good governance, freedom of the press and people’s fundamental rights.’

On Wednesday, the RSP put out a press release justifying Sirohiya’s detention, saying that he was accused of ‘serious accusation of fraudulent citizenship’.

‘A person who runs a profitable private business is not the same as a hard-working journalist who writes news,’ read the party’s statement, rejecting that the arrest had anything to do with undermining press freedom in Nepal.  

‘An investigation that has sufficient grounds and the permission of the court is not a violation of the freedom of the press. Rather, this misinterpretation makes the press, instead of being free, a slave network of unfair transactions,’ the statement continued.

However, most independent analysts do not buy that argument, and say that the Home Minister’s action shows that he is thin-skinned and could not stomach press exposes about his alleged involvement of cheating cooperative depositors. Lamichhane has in the past lashed out at the mainstream press, calling its publishers the 'dirty dozen'.

Political leaders in PM Dahal own coalition have also criticised the handling by the government of Sirohiya’s citizenship issue. 

"Arresting Sirohiya’s on the basis of whether or not he is a citizen of Nepal is highly condemnable," said CPN-Unified Socialist chair Madhav Kumar Nepal, “The matter of two citizenship documents having the same number should be attributed not to the persons who hold the citizenships, but to the administration that issued them.”

Sirohiya’s arrest has also deepened the political chasm between the opposition Nepali Congress (NC) and Rabi Lamichhane. Leaders of the opposition have been vehement in their condemnation of the RSP chair following Sirohiya’s arrest, just days after the main opposition in parliament finally allowed Lamichhane to speak in the Lower House. 

NC lawmakers had previously banned Lamichhane from speaking in parliament ever since the RSP joined the coalition and Lamichhane got the Home Minister portfolio for the second time. 

The main parties in parliament finally agreed to form a parliamentary inquiry committee to look into the cooperatives scam case. However, it is unclear if Home Minister Lamichhane and his alleged involvement in the case will fall under the purview of the investigation. 

Meanwhile, the party chair’s public controversies have taken away from the promises of action that the party made to voters in the run-up to the elections in 2023, and also seem to have put fellow RSP lawmakers and leaders on the defensive, causing them to make public statements which insiders have said put the party leader above the party.

Such rhetoric from RSP leaders, say analysts, points to a lack of understanding on the part of the party about how political language works and exposes how the party, two years past the election, still lacks a proper organisational structure and messaging strategy. 

Shristi Karki


Shristi Karki is a correspondent with Nepali Times. She joined Nepali Times as an intern in 2020, becoming a part of the newsroom full-time after graduating from Kathmandu University School of Arts. Karki has reported on politics, current affairs, art and culture.

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