Nepal arrests journalist with top India links

February 4th, 2009 - 7:25 pm ICT by IANS  

Kathmandu, Feb 4 (IANS) Nepal police Wednesday said they have arrested a well known Nepali journalist whose contacts include the high and mighty in Nepal as well as India.Rishi Dhamala, whose media organisation in Kathmandu, Reporters’ Club, played a key role in news-making, was arrested from the club Tuesday evening for allegedly acting as a go-between for a little-known armed group that has claimed to be behind a series of recent bomb blasts in the capital.

An underground organisation calling itself the Ranvir Sena recently claimed responsibility for three explosions near the Tribhuvan International Airport, Durbar High School and Kathmandu post office, in which two people were injured.

Police said they were unable to say immediately if the outfit had any association with the Ranvir Sena of India’s Bihar state, a powerful army of landlords that has been engaged in a bitter battle with the Indian Maoists.

Ramesh Kumar Shrestha, additional inspector-general of Metropolitan Police, told a packed press conference Wednesday that Dhamala was arrested following confessions by three other journalists, all of whom were allegedly active members of the Ranvir Sena.

Except Dhamala, who comes from Dhading district in central Nepal, the other three journalists are from the Terai plains where dozens of armed gangs have become active since the fall of king Gyanendra’s government in 2006.

In the video clips shown to the media, one of them, Ram Suvak Mahato from Siraha district, said he was originally a member of a Terai group, the Madhesbadi Janatantrik Party. However, he quit it to join the Sena and was in charge of the media as well as the Kathmandu valley.

Mahato claimed he, along with the other two Terai journalists, Manoj Mahato, also from Siraha, and Birendra Kumar Mahato of Sunsari district, were given the task of extracting a “donation” of NRS 4 million from a businessman.

Dhamala, who is known to have top connections in Nepal as well as abroad, allegedly agreed to be the “facilitator” as well as ensure security for the three in exchange for a fee of NRS 1 million.

While Mahato and his aides were arrested earlier this week while allegedly receiving the money from the threatened businessman, Dhamala was nabbed Tuesday by policemen in plainclothes.

Dhamala’s media club has hosted press conferences for the who’s who in Nepal, including Maoist Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal Prachanda, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s special representative for Nepal Ian Martin, the Chinese ambassador to Nepal, Qiu Guohong and the Indian envoy, Rakesh Sood.

India’s powerful leftist politician Sitaram Yechuri, who belongs to the Communist Party of India-Marxist, has his press conferences organised in Nepal by Dhamala during trips to the Himalayan republic. Last month, when Bollywood star Govinda came to Nepal to offer his thanks at the famed Pashupatinath temple, it was Dhamala who roped in the star for an impromptu press conference.

Shrestha said Dhamala would be kept in custody for 14 days for further investigations. He faces charges of being involved in illegal arms and explosives deals.

Speaking to journalists from the police van that carried him to the district administration office Wednesday, Dhamala denied having any links with the Ranvir Sena. He said it was a conspiracy against him by the state.

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