Youth-led protest enters third day with demonstration at Maitighar MandalaUnlike the previous protests, police did not employ force at Saturday’s demonstration but arrested 10 people, including seven foreigners.
The youth-led protests that began earlier this week continued on Saturday with around 500 individuals gathering at Maitighar Mandala to protest the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The protest, which started at 10 am and ended about an hour-and-a-half later, was peaceful, with few disruptions. But early in the protest, police swiftly arrested 10 people from the protest site, including seven foreigners.
“Seven foreigners, including three Chinese nationals and one each from the United States, Norway, Australia and Canada, and three Nepali nationals have been taken into custody,” said Senior Superintendent Sushil Kumar Yadav, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Police Office. “The involvement of the foreigners in the protest is being investigated.”
According to Yadav, the Nepalis were arrested for attempting to protest in prohibited zones and for getting aggressive while the foreigners were taken into custody to investigate their role in the protest.
“Foreigners are not allowed to protest in Nepal,” said Senior Superintendent Shyam Lal Gyawali, chief of the Kathmandu Metropolitan Police Range. “We are looking into their motives behind visiting the protest.”
Besides the early arrests, police largely refrained from using force against protesters, unlike on Tuesday and Thursday when protesters were met with water cannons, tear gas and baton charges. There were, however, sporadic reports of police confiscating banners and placards from protesters who were on their way to Maitighar.
“I was carrying pamphlets and placards on my way to the protest but they were seized by police officials in Baneshwor,” said Ishan Raj Onta, a protester.
On Thursday, after a massive protest in Kathmandu that saw over a thousand people, the Home Ministry had issued a statement warning against future protests that could lead to a maximum six month jail term, according to the Infectious Diseases Act 2020.
Protesters were wearing masks and holding placards that called into question the government’s response to Covid-19 and demanded an accounting of the Rs10 billion that the government is reported to have spent in the fight against the pandemic.
“If this is a democratic nation then the government must listen to us,” said 42-year-old Dinesh Singh, who was among the older members of the protest. Singh, who owns a handicraft shop in Boudha, had attended the protest to demand accountability from the government, he said.
The youth-led protest, organised largely on social media, first took place on Tuesday and has spread across the country since then. The protesters are demanding wider use of polymerase chain reaction tests as rapid diagnostic tests are unreliable, improvements to quarantine facilities, and an expenditure report.
There had been calls to postpone Saturday’s protest as the government has scheduled a vote on the constitutional amendment that will update the new Nepali map on the national emblem. The protests could be interpreted as being against the Nepal map, the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre, headed by Deputy Prime Minister Ishwar Pokhrel, said in a press statement.
Protesters, however, said that they supported the government’s new map and were only protesting its handling of Covid-19.
“We had placards in support of the new map that includes Limpiyadhura, Lipulekh and Kalapani,” said Abhishek Singh, one of the protesters. “We support the government for the map, but we will not stop raising our voice against the government’s poor handling of the Covid-19 crisis.”
Protesters even sang the national anthem and distributed roses to security personnel.
Many protesters took pains to assert that they were not affiliated with any political party, although the Janata Samajbadi Party, Sajha Party and Bibeksheel Party have all issued statements in support of the protest.
“This is a conscious youth-led protest against the government’s wrongdoing,” said Nagma Shrestha, a protester. “We do not want to give it any political colour.”
Shuvam Dhungana and Aditi Aryal contributed reporting.