KATHMANDU, Aug 25: Former Maoist child soldier Lenin Bista has been barred from leaving the country.
Immigration officials on Friday morning stopped him from going to Thailand, where he was to attend a five-day event titled “Youth in Conflict Areas: Healing and Peace Building through Social Engagement”.
Bista was stopped soon after he completed immigration formalities at the international airport.
Bista had a valid passport and visa and his flight was already booked by the event organizer, Asian Resource Good Governance. Bista was invited to the event to share his experience of how the Maoists used child soldiers during their armed insurgency and ignored them after joining normal politics.
Immigration officials, according to Bista, barred him from leaving for Thailand, citing “orders from higher-ups”.
After Bista refused to return from the airport without being given a reason in witting for being turned back, an immigration official produced a letter. The letter states that Bista was barred from leaving the country as he was found not having any recommendation or permission in writing from the government authorities concerned.
Bista has complained that the government, and Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa in particular, was not happy with him as he has continuously raised the issue of Maoist child soldiers and criticized the Maoist leaders for not giving them their due. “Some days ago, Surya Subedi, advisor to the home minister, had threatened to bar me from going aboard, and that is what he has done today,” said Bista.
The government and the Maoist leaders have been closely monitoring Bista, who is now critical of the Maoist recruitment of child soldiers for their armed insurgency that ended in 2006. Bista had taken the lead in encircling the Maoist headquarters at Parisdanda in Kathmandu, demanding that the needs of former child soldiers be addressed while settling transitional justice issues.
“They had even taken me into custody for a year, all because of my raising issues concerning child soldiers,” said Bista adding, “They will not silence me any longer.” After they turned him back from TIA, Bista went to the Supreme Court and the National Human Rights Commission. The apex court did not register his complaint, citing the end of office hours.
The rights body, however, has drawn the government’s attention to the curtailment of an individual’s right to movement. “Will the government now bar other Maoist leaders also from going aboard ?” NHRC spokesperson Mohna Ansari asked.
Senior journalist Kanak Mani Dixit has also criticized the government move. “The citizen’s right to freedom of travel has been curtailed. This is regrettable, unfathomable and undemocratic,” he tweeted after the incident.
The Maoists had recruited thousands of child soldiers during their decade-long armed insurgency. Later, UNMIN, the United Nations Mission in Nepal, disqualified the child soldiers for service in the national army. Altogether 4,008 child soldiers were sent back to their homes with minimal financial assistance.
Most of the former child soldiers are now living in misery. They missed out on schooling or vocational exposure during the insurgency period, and both the government and the Maoist party have paid them scant attention.