Monday, May 20, 2024

Nepal's ex-cricket captain acquitted of rape on appeal

Nepal's ex-cricket captain acquitted of rape on appeal
May 15, 2024 Web Desk

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AFP) - Nepali cricket star Sandeep Lamichhane had his eight-year jail sentence for rape quashed on appeal on Wednesday after the former national captain challenged his conviction.

Lamichhane was once the poster boy for cricket in Nepal and his onfield success as a leg-spinner dramatically boosted the sport's profile in the Himalayan republic. He was accused of raping a young woman in a Kathmandu hotel in 2022 but was freed on bail and returned to the team to compete in international tournaments while his lengthy trial dragged on.

The 23-year-old was convicted of rape late last year and sentenced in January but remained at liberty after challenging the verdict. "Sandeep Lamichhane has been acquitted," Patan High Court spokesman Bimal Parajuli told AFP. Lamichhane was suspended by Nepal's cricket board after the initial verdict.

He has consistently denied the charge against him and enjoyed strong public support despite the accusation. "I am innocent and I will be indebted to those who believe and sympathize with my innocence," Lamichhane posted on Facebook this month.

Lamichhane was in court to hear the verdict and dozens of fans cheered and celebrated outside after it was announced. "We all know he is innocent so they have gathered here and united for his justice," said 21-year-old fan Asmita Chettri.

T20 World Cup squad 

In 2022, when an arrest warrant in the case was first issued, Lamichhane initially failed to return from Jamaica, where he was playing in the Caribbean Premier League. He was dismissed as national captain and arrested but Nepal lifted his playing ban after he was freed on bail.

This allowed him to remain on the national team, including for the World Cup qualifiers and the 2023 Asia Cup. But his continued playing career has also sparked anger and caused some Nepalis to disavow the team. Scotland's cricketers refused to shake hands with him after their matches during an international tournament in Dubai.

Wednesday's acquittal comes with the Nepali team in the United States to prepare ahead of next month's T20 World Cup. Cricket does not enjoy the same adulation in mountainous Nepal as it does elsewhere in South Asia. But the sport has been growing in popularity, with Nepal given one-day international status by the world governing body in 2018.

Lamichhane was a major part of this rise as the most sought-after Nepali cricketer in lucrative leagues around the world. The leg-spinner's big break came when he was snapped up for the Indian Premier League, the world's richest cricket tournament, in 2018. About 2,300 rape cases were reported in Nepal in the 2021-22 fiscal year, according to police, but rights advocates say many more assaults go unreported. Only a handful of women in Nepal spoke out during the #MeToo movement, and those accused have faced little or no repercussions over the allegations.