Govt does not have authority to illegally ban citizens from traveling abroad: SC

Published On: July 14, 2020 04:00 PM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

KATHMANDU, July 13: The Supreme Court (SC) has said that the government does not have the authority to issue travel bans on any citizen unless it is clearly permitted by the laws.

A division bench of Justices Dr Ananda Mohan Bhattarai and Kumar Regmi issued the order stating that the government does not have authority to impose a travel ban without initiating any legal action as permitted by any law to do so when any citizen reaches the airport after completing all necessary legal processes to travel abroad.

The apex court issued the mandamus cautioning the government in response to a writ petition filed by former Maoist child soldier Lenin Bist, who challenged the government’s decision to ban his travel to Thailand to participate in a conference. A full text of the verdict on the writ petition was issued only recently.

Stating that the obstruction made by the government authorities against Bista to catch a flight even as he had completed all necessary travel processes and reached the Tribhuvan International Airport was unconstitutional, the joint bench maintained that there was a need to clearly demarcate the line between the government's authority and the rights of the citizens.

The division bench of Dr Bhattarai and Regmi said that the government authorities do not have the authority to place travel restrictions on any citizen when they have already reached the airport and are set to catch a flight after completing all necessary travel formalities. The Department of Immigration had prohibited former Maoist child soldier Bista from traveling abroad two years ago.

The bench concluded that the government authorities concerned had breached the laws and violated Bista’s fundamental rights by prohibiting him from flying abroad.

On August 24, 2018, immigration officials, allegedly at the behest of Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, had stopped Bista from flying to Thailand, where he was scheduled to attend a five-day event titled “Youth in Conflict Areas: Healing and Peace Building through Social Engagement”. The government’s move had immediately drawn widespread condemnation and sparked debate on the Oli government’s growing attack on civic liberties.

Bista had filed the writ petition at the SC saying that the government had breached its jurisdiction and deprived him of his fundamental rights through the travel restriction. Senior advocate Shambhu Thapa and advocate Om Prakash Aryal had argued on Bista’s behalf. 

The court had earlier ordered the offices concerned including the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Home Affairs to clarify the reason behind barring Bista from traveling abroad. Bista, who was subjected to unlawful detention, torture and threats by the Maoists for speaking out against exclusion of child soldiers during the army integration process, has since been championing the rights of child soldiers through his non-profit organization.

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