The recent arrest of 122 Chinese nationals sets a dangerous precedentHow would Nepal react if the state apparatus was conducting similar mass arrests on Nepali soil on behalf of India?
The Nepal Police, on December 23, arrested 122 Chinese nationals from all over the Kathmandu Valley. The operation, the largest one against any foreign nationals in Nepal’s history, apparently continues: At least 800 more Chinese nationals are being watched currently. The authorities concerned have said that they are ‘investigating [whether the Chinese nationals] were involved in breaking cyber law, breaching digital networking systems, online gambling and money laundering’.
Further, reports suggest that the police are holding the persons without proper charges being filed. But this brings more questions than answers. Why were the Chinese nationals arrested if the police are still conducting investigations? Is this level of intervention by the state apparatus to be tolerated in a sovereign and democratic country?
While this is not the first time Chinese citizens have been arrested on Nepali soil—five being arrested for hacking ATMs and stealing money in September this year alone—some features of this recent police action do seem suspicious. The request seems to have initially come from an Interpol notice, after which the Nepal Police worked directly with the Chinese Embassy to track the alleged criminals. But until December 25, the only charges the police are holding the persons under is ‘indecent behaviour’—not something usually used in Nepal (or any democratic country) to hold people in custody en masse. To clear any suspicion of the police working directly for Chinese interests, the police must clarify the actual charges. There is too much conjecture and room for misinterpretation at this point.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was more forthcoming. At a press conference on December 24, the spokesperson said that the cases were related to cross-border cyber fraud activities, and that the investigations were ongoing. Further, the spokesperson said that this was a joint effort between the police of Nepal and China.
But if this were true, and the Chinese nationals are suspected of committing a crime, the investigations aren’t complete yet, and this makes the arrests even more problematic. Nepal subscribes to the idea of habeas corpus, wherein a person cannot be detained for long unless concrete charges are brought forth. It seems the Nepal Police are abusing their power to put up the ‘indecent behaviour’ charges to unlawfully hold the suspects on China’s behalf.
During Xi Jinping’s visit this year, Nepal and China signed a Mutual Legal Assistance on Criminal Matters pact: Nepal can hand over Chinese citizens that have breached the law but have not committed a crime on Nepali soil. In lieu of an extradition treaty, this ensures that Chinese nationals committing crimes against China can be repatriated to their home country. Usually, someone who overstays their Nepali tourist visa is required to pay a fine—arrests rarely occur. But such a loosely worded pact can mean any Chinese national wanted by China and residing in Nepal can be sent back on as small a charge as overstaying—essentially an extradition pact.
Nepal’s closeness to its northern neighbour can bring with it avenues for development. However, increasingly, it seems that what Nepal is learning instead are undemocratic practices. The suspects in this case may well have committed serious cybercrimes, thus necessitating investigations and arrests—even repatriation. But the way this has been handled brings forth suspicions.
Moreover, Nepal has for years been home to Tibetan refugees, and has provided them safe passage to third countries. But during Xi’s visit, Nepali nationals as young as 14 were arrested and held for sporting Free Tibet merchandise, showing Nepal’s growing intolerance. Who can guarantee that the Mutual Legal Assistance pact won’t be used to target refugees in the future? In another context, how would Nepal react if the state apparatus was conducting similar mass arrests on Nepali soil on behalf of India? This recent action sets a dangerous precedent.
What do you think?
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