National

Former Maoist child soldier barred from leaving country

Lenin Bista says officials threatened him against raising the issue of child combatants

- BINOD GHIMIRE, Kathmandu

A former Maoist child soldier who has long been campaigning for justice for thousands of minor guerilla fighters during the decade-long insurgency was stopped from travelling to Thailand on Friday, the latest example of the length the KP Oli administration will go to tighten its grip on individual freedom.

Lenin Bista, 27, was already issued a boarding pass and had cleared immigration at the Tribhuvan International Airport when he was stopped by immigration officials from proceeding to the gate. Officials told Bista, who was on the 9:50am Nepal Airlines flight to Bangkok, that he couldn’t travel abroad because he was “partially blacklisted” on Friday morning itself.

The ban on Bista is the second incident in two months in which government officials have stopped someone at the immigration from leaving the country. On July 8, Nepal Sanskrit University Vice-chancellor Kul Prasad Koirala was barred from flying to Canada, saying he was travelling without prior permission from the prime minister who happens to be the chancellor of the varsity.

After he was denied travel, Bista demanded that immigration officials provide in written the reasons behind the restrictions. Bista was then handed a letter with just a single line that said: “He [Bista] had not received permission or recommendation from the concerned authority to participate in the programme.” There are no legal provisions that require a Nepali citizen to ask for permission before travelling abroad.

Immigration officials at the Tribhuvan International Airport told the Post that they were asked to stop Bista from travelling because the organisation that had invited him wasn’t listed with the Nepal government. Asked if there were legal grounds or precedents for such requirement, one official said he wasn’t aware of any.

“I don’t have much idea on the issue as I am new here,” said Laxman Thapa, acting chief at the airport immigration. “We worked as directed by the higher authority.”

In an interview with the Post, Bista said he was stopped because the government feared that he would raise the issue of child combatants in the international forum, and accused senior officials at the Ministry of Home Affairs, which is led by former Maoist leader Ram Bahadur Thapa, of trying to silence him. “Surya Subedi, who is an advisor to the home minister, asked me to show him my presentation that I was planning to make at the workshop,” Bista said. “He then threatened to stop me at the immigration—and, he succeeded in doing so.”

Subedi responded to Bista’s accusation, calling them “rubbish”. Talking to the Post, he said he had no idea Bista was travelling to Thailand. Subedi, who is a former central working committee member of the erstwhile CPN (Maoist Centre), has got a controversial past. Last month, he was accused of forcibly taking a doctor from the National Trauma Centre and detaining him at the Home Ministry because the doctor had refused to prepare medical reports for former Maoist combatants as dictated by the government.

Bista was traveling for a five-day workshop on “Youth in Conflict Areas: Healing and Peace-building through Social Engagement” organised by the Asian Resource Good Governance, scheduled to kick off on Saturday. “This is absolutely ridiculous. The government has violated my right to travel freely,” Bista told the Post.

Bista joined the Maoists as a fighter in 2002 when he was hardly 11 years old. He was underground for around four years before the Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist) agreed to give up arms after signing the Comprehensive Peace Accord in 2006. Bista was then living in a Maoist cantonment, along with thousands of other soldiers, waiting for integration into the Nepal Army.

However, during the verification process by the United Nations Mission in Nepal that ended in December 2007, officials concluded that 2,972 Maoist guerillas, including Bista, were child soldiers and therefore rejected for integration.

Since then, Bista has been leading the Discharged People’s Liberation Army Struggle Committee, demanding that the use of child combatants be treated as a war crime. The committee has held a number of protests to demand employment opportunities for former child combatants.

Bista has lodged a complaint at the National Human Rights Commission, saying that the government has violated his fundamental right to move freely while seeking assurances for his safety. “We will look into the case and take necessary actions,” Commission Spokesperson Mohna Ansari told the Post. “My personal reading is that the incident is yet another hint that the government is gradually taking an authoritarian path.”

Bista said he would also take the issue to the Supreme Court on Sunday.

 

Published: 2018-08-25 07:53:50