Incident Reports

Former Maoist child soldier barred from leaving the country


Bagmati, Kathmandu, 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 K.P. 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 asked stopped by immigration officials from proceeding to the gate. Officials told Bista, who was on the 9:50 a.m. 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 where 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 travel abroad. Immigration officials at the Tribhuvan International Airport told the Post they were asked to stop Bista from traveling because the organisation that had invited him wasn’t listed with Nepal government. When asked if there were any legal grounds or precedent 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, the acting chief at the airport immigration. We worked as per the direction from higher authority.” In an interview with the Post, Bista said he was stopped because the government feared 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 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 give 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. In a phone interview with the Post, he said he had no idea Bista was travelling to Thailand. Subedi, who is a former central working committee member of the CPN (Maoist Centre), has been mired in controversy in the past. Last month, he was blamed of forcibly taking a doctor from the National Trauma Center and detaining him at the home ministry because the doctor had refused to prepare a medical report for former Maoist combatants according to government’s instructions. Bista was traveling for a five-day workshop on “Youth in Conflict Areas: Healing and Peace-building through Social Engagement” organised by Asian Resource Good Governance, scheduled to kickoff 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 the Maoist cantonments, 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 were rejected from the integration process. 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 National Human Rights Commission, saying the government has violated his fundamental right to move freely and also has demanded assurances for his safety. “We will investigate into the case and take necessary actions,” Commission’s spokesperson Mohna Ansari told the Post. “My personal reading is that the incident is yet another instance to hint the government is gradually taking an authoritarian path.” Bista said he will also take the issue to the Supreme Court on Sunday. बैंककस्थित कार्यक्रममा सहभागी हुन हिँडेका एक पूर्वमाओवादी लडाकुलाई गृह मन्त्रालयको आदेशमा अध्यागमन विभागले रोकेको छ। शुक्रबार ९:५० को आरए ४०१ फ्लाइटमा बैंकक जान लागेका काभ्रेका युवा लेनिन विष्टलाई विभागले रोकेको हो। विष्टका अनुसार सुरूमा विभागले राहदानीमा छाप लगाएर पठाइसकेको थियो। पुनः बोलाएर पासपोर्ट खोसेर प्रस्थान रोकेको हो। विष्ट बिहान ७ बजे त्रिभुवन अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय विमानस्थल पुगेका थिए। पासपोर्ट र टिकट लिएर अध्यागमनको डेक्समा पुगे। उनको पासपोर्ट जाँचेर अध्यागमनका कर्मचारीले ‘डिपार्टटेड’ अर्थात् नेपालबाट बाहिर गएको भन्ने छाप लगाइदिए। ‘पाँच पाइला हिँडेपछि बोलाए,’ लेनिनले भने, ‘तपाईंको केही कागजात बुझ्नु छ भनी पासपोर्ट मागे र मलाई एक घण्टा कुराएर प्रस्थान रद्ध गरेको छाप लगाए।’ आफ्नो उडान रद्ध गरिएकोबारे लेनिनले जानकारी मागेपछि कर्मचारीले ‘माथिको आदेश’ भनेका थिए। अध्यागमन विभागले लेनिनलाई शुक्रबारै ‘अस्थायी कालोसूची’मा राखेको बतायो। ‘कालोसूची पनि अस्थायी त नहुनुपर्ने हो,’ लेनिनले भने, ‘मेरो पृष्ठभूमि केही उल्लेख पनि गरिएन।’ लेनिनले अध्यागमनको भनाइ चित्त नबुझेपछि लिखित कारण मागे। अध्यागमन विभागले लिखित दिँदा कारण फेर्‍यो। चिठीमा जुन कार्यक्रमका लागि भनी जान लागेको त्यसमा नेपाल सरकारको सिफारिस वा स्वीकृति नदेखिएकाले प्रस्थान अनुमति नदिएको दाबी गरिएको छ। चिठीमा भनिएको छ, ‘जुन कार्यक्रममा जान लागेको हो, त्यस विषयसँग सम्बद्ध नेपाल सरकारको कुनै पनि निकायको सिफारिस तथा स्वीकृति नदेखिएकाले प्रस्थान अनुमति नदिएको।’ नेपाली नागरिक विदेश घुम्न वा कुनै कार्यक्रममा भाग लिन जाँदा सरकारको कुनै निकायको स्वीकृति वा सिफारिस लिनुपर्ने कुनै कानुनी व्यवस्था छैन। ‘म एउटा सामाजिक अभियनता हुँ, मेरो कुनै पनि किसिमको आपराधिक पृष्ठभूमि थिएन, फेरि म कुनै संस्थाको कार्यक्रममा जान लाग्दा नेपाल सरकारको सिफारिस पनि चाहिने थिएन,’ उनले भने, ‘सरकारले मलाई अन्यायपूर्वक विदेश जान रोक लगायो, यो मेरो मानव अधिकार उल्लंघन हो।’ लेनिनलाई ‘युथ इन कन्फ्लिट : हेलिङ एन्ड पिस-विल्डिङ थ्रो सोसिएल इङ्गेजमेन्ट’ विषयक कार्यक्रममा भाग लिन जुलाई २७ मा निमन्त्रणा आएको थियो। बैंककस्थित ‘एसिएन रिसोर्स फाउन्डेसन’ले भिसा र खाने बस्ने व्यवस्थासहित आमन्त्रण गरेपछि नेपालबाट लेनिन र अर्का एक जना सो कार्यक्रममा भाग लिन हिँडेका थिए। अध्यागमन विभागले भने लेनिनलाई किन रोकेको भन्ने जानकारी नभएको बताएको छ। ‘मलाई अहिलेसम्म जानकारी छैन,’ अध्यागमन विभागका महानिर्देशक ईश्वरराज पौडेलले सेतोपाटीसँग भने। पौडेलका अनुसार विमानस्थलमा कसलाई प्रस्थान दिने वा फर्काउने भनी अधिकारसम्पन्न कर्मचारीहरू छन्। त्यहाँ सह-सचिवकै नेतृत्वमा कर्मचारी छन्। ‘म कहाँ रिपोर्ट आइसकेको छैन,’ पौडेलले भने। लेनिनसँगै हिँडेकी नम्रिता सुवेदीले भने प्रस्थान पाइन्। उनी माओवादीद्वारा विस्थापित परिवारकी सदस्य हुन्। लेनिन पूर्वमाओवादी लडाकु हुन्। ११ वर्षको छँदा पाँच कक्षा पढ्दा-पढ्दै माओवादी युद्वमा होमिएका लेनिन बाल सेना हुन्। २०५९ सालमा उनी माओवादी बाल सेना बनेका थिए। शान्ति प्रक्रिया सुरू भएपछि उनी शिविरमा राखिए। पछि संयुक्त राष्ट्रसंघको मिसन अनमिनले प्रमाणिकरण गर्दा उनी बाल सेना भनेर शिविरबाट फिर्ता पठाइएका थिए। त्यसयता उनी युद्धमा बालबालिकाको प्रयोग नहोस् भनी अभियान चलाइरहेका छन्। उनी युद्धमा बालबालिका प्रयोग गर्न नपाइने कानुन आओस् र पहिले प्रयोग भएका बालबालिको व्यवस्थापन राज्यले गरोस् भनी विभिन्न मञ्चहरूमा बोलिरहेका छन्। अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय मञ्चमा समेत त्यस्तो विषय उठाउन सक्ने आशंकाले गृह मन्त्रालयले नियोजितै आफूलाई रोकेको उनले बताए। जबकी यसपालि बैंककमा हुने कार्यक्रम युवाहरूको सामाजिक दायित्वमा केन्द्रित थियो र बाल सेनासँग यसको कुनै सरोकार थिएन। लेनिनका गतिविधिमा गृह मन्त्रालयले चासो राख्ने गरेको थियो। बैंककको कार्यक्रम तय भएपछि पनि लेनिनलाई गृह मन्त्री रामबहादुर थापाका सल्लाहकार सूर्य सुवेदीले सो कार्यक्रमा उनले बोल्ने विषयवस्तुबारे मन्त्रालायमा पठाउन खबर गरेका थिए। ‘बैंककमा दिने प्रस्तुति मागिएको थियो, मैले साथीमार्फत पठाएको थिएँ,’ लेनिनले भने। लेनिनका अनुसार सुवेदीले लेनिनलाई ‘जहाँ पनि रोक्न सक्ने’ चेतावनी दिएका थिए। ‘मैले चाहे भने एयरपोर्टमै रोक्छु,’ सुवेदीले लेनिनलाई खबर पठाएका थिए। ‘मलाई रोक्न जे पनि गर्नसक्ने धम्की गृहबाट आएको हुनाले म आफू सुरक्षित महसुस गरिरहेको छैन,’ लेनिनले भने। ‘पहिले माओवादीले नै अधिकारका लागि बन्दुक बोक्नुपर्छ भनेर सिकाए,’ उनले भने, ‘अहिले आवाज उठाउँदा दु:ख दिरा’छन्।’ आफू रोकिएको र अध्यागमनले दिएको कागजात लिएर राष्ट्रिय मानवअधिकार आयोग र सर्वोच्च अदालत जाने लेनिनले बताए। ‘नेपालको कुनै पनि नागरिक स्वतन्त्र तरिकाले देश-विदेश हिँड्न पाउनुपर्छ, माओवादीसँग जोडिएको युद्धको बारेमै कुरा गर्न जाँदा पनि सरकार मलाई रोक्न पाउँदैन,’ उनले भने।