Police in Kathmandu today arrested a group of protesters demonstrating near the venue of a regional summit to demand that authorities drop a treason case against a prominent Nepalese activist. Authorities last month charged Chandra Kant Raut, a former scientist with a doctorate from Britain's Cambridge University, with treason over his calls for a separate homeland for Nepal's marginalised Madhesi community who live in the southern plains. Around 15 protesters gathered around a kilometre from the venue hosting meetings between leaders of eight South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) nations. Police said they defied orders to keep the area clear. "We arrested 15 people protesting near the SAARC venue today, because we could not allow crowds to block the area," a spokesman for the Kathmandu metropolitan police told AFP. "We told them to move and hold the protest somewhere else but they refused." Binay Panjiyar, one of those arrested, said it was a peaceful sit-down protest and there was no justification for their detention. "We were far enough from the venue and were not blocking any traffic," Panjiyar told AFP by mobile phone from police custody. The arrests come two days after Raut's release on bail.
Police originally detained him in September and held him for weeks while preparing charges. The Madhesis, who live in the Himalayan nation's fertile Terai plains bordering India, have long complained of discrimination at the hands of high-caste highland communities and have sought greater political autonomy for the region. But lawmakers in Kathmandu have struggled for years to agree on a draft constitution that would address their demands by dividing the country into new federal states. Nepal has endured prolonged political limbo since the end of a decade-long civil war in 2006.