EDITORIAL: Clarify position

Other countries could apply similar pressure on Nepal to have their nationals ‘deported’, which deprives Nepal of taking an independent call on the issue

The 122 Chinese nationals, who were arrested in raids carried out in the capital on December 23 for their alleged involvement in cyber and financial crimes, were deported back to their country Wednesday evening, but human rights activists are crying foul that this is nothing but roundabout extradition. Two chartered aircraft of China Eastern Airlines and China Southern Airlines flew with the Chinese citizens after the Nepal government handed them over to Chinese government officials at the Tribhuvan International Airport. This is the biggest deportation of foreign nationals ever from Nepal. Since their arrest from seven private residences in different parts of the capital a fortnight ago, speculations were rife as to what would happen to them – whether they would be deported, extradited or made to face prison sentences in Nepal. The Chinese nationals would not have been arrested without a tip-off from the Chinese government. And China has not made any attempt to conceal the fact, with an official from China’s Foreign Ministry, at a press briefing in Beijing the following day, confirming the action was taken under mutual cooperation between the two countries.

The 122 Chinese were arrested on suspicion of using social media to swindle money from rich, single and divorced Chinese women, running an illegal online gambling racket, operating the Ponzi scheme and blackmailing Chinese by hacking private information from their phones and computers. The Chinese, most of whom are below the age of 40, are learnt to have come to Nepal from the Philippines, Cambodia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka after governments there started cracking down on them for engaging in cyber and financial crimes there and in China. During the raids in Kathmandu, police confiscated a large number of laptops and mobile phones from the posh apartments. However, the police were unable to convict them of any wrong-doing, and the Kathmandu DAO ordered their release on Sunday and slapped small fines on them for engaging in activities restricted by Nepal’s immigration laws – they did not hold valid travel documents or even passports at the time of arrest.

What fate awaits the 122 Chinese back home is hard to say, given that such rackets operating from both China and overseas are said to have stolen billions of yuans from the banks there by hacking into the banking system. Nepal and China have not signed an extradition treaty, following opposition from some quarters, but during Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Nepal in October, the two sides did sign a Treaty on Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters. So legally, in the absence of an extradition treaty, the handover of the Chinese nationals to Chinese officials is deportation, but practically, this is extradition, with the government acting at China’s behest. But the question arises, since the police could not prove they had committed a crime here, was it justifiable to send them back home as demanded by China? What this could lead to is, other countries could apply similar pressure on Nepal to have their nationals ‘deported’, which deprives Nepal of making an independent call on the issue.

Land bank

With the increasing number of youths migrating for overseas employment, most of the country’s arable land has remained fallow or uncultivated. Only women and elderly people are left behind at home with no one to till their land even for their subsistence. The land, especially in the Tarai region and urban areas, is being rapidly fragmented for housing purpose, and land in the hilly and mountainous regions lies barren for lack of an able workforce. This is the reason why the country has not been able to produce enough food to feed its population.

To address this problem, the Ministry of Land Management, Cooperatives and Poverty Alleviation is gearing up to set up a land bank. Under this plan, no land owner will be allowed to keep his/her land fallow for more than three years. If anyone is found not tilling their land as per the land use policy, they will be fined. This may be a good move to encourage farmers to fully utilise their farmland for agricultural purpose. But no one will be tempted to engage in it unless s/he sees a prospect to support the family. Unless the government comes up with a robust plan of modernising the agriculture sector, the concept of the land bank will also gather dust on the shelf.