Nepali cricket star Sandeep Lamichhane was on Friday convicted of rape after a repeatedly delayed trial that had left him free to continue his sporting career.
Lamichhane, 23, was once the poster boy for the rise of cricket in Nepal and the leg spinner’s onfield success had boosted the sport’s profile in the Himalayan republic.
Last year he was accused of raping a 17-year-old girl in a Kathmandu hotel but was freed on bail in January and returned to the squad to compete in international tournaments.
His lawyer Saroj Ghimire told AFP that a court had convicted Lamichhane on Friday.
“His sentence will be decided in the next hearing,” he added.
District court official Ramu Sharma confirmed the verdict to AFP.
“The event was not consensual,” he said.
When authorities issued an arrest warrant Lamichhane initially failed to return from Jamaica, where he was playing in the Caribbean Premier League.
He was dismissed as national captain and arrested last year but Nepal lifted his playing ban after he was freed on bail.
This allowed him to remain in the national team, including for the World Cup qualifiers and September’s Asia Cup.
Lamichhane has consistently denied the charge against him and enjoyed strong public support despite the accusations.
“You are hero of Nepali cricket team be strong we can understand your problem take care of your self,” one fan wrote on his official Facebook page in October.
Hundreds of cheering cricket fans welcomed him when he first returned to the field in February.
But his continued playing career has also sparked anger and caused numerous Nepalis to disavow the team.
Scotland’s cricketers refused to shake hands with him after their matches during an international tournament in Dubai.
The case against Lamichhane took more than a year to conclude after repeated delays on procedural grounds.
Cricket does not enjoy the same adulation in mountainous Nepal as it does elsewhere in South Asia.
But it has been growing in popularity, with Nepal given one-day international status by the world governing body in 2018.
Lamichhane has been 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 lucrative 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 workers 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.
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