Former Nepal cricket captain Lamichhane sentenced to eight years for rape

Sandeep Lamichhane. File photo

A court in Nepal on Wednesday sentenced former star cricket captain Sandeep Lamichhane to eight years in prison for rape.

Lamichhane, 23, was once the poster boy for cricket in Nepal and the leg spinner’s onfield success had boosted the sport’s profile in the Himalayan republic.

In 2022 he was accused of raping a young woman in a Kathmandu hotel but was freed on bail and returned to the squad to compete in international tournaments.

He was convicted of rape in December after a repeatedly delayed trial that had left him free to continue his sporting career, with his sentence handed down on Wednesday.

“The court has sentenced him to eight years,” Kathmandu district court official Ramu Sharma told AFP.

Lamichhane was also ordered to pay a court fine of 300,000 Nepalese rupees ($2,255) and a further 200,000 rupees ($1,500) to the victim as compensation for the “mental impact” of his attack.

Lamichhane, who is not in custody, was not in court for the sentencing.

His lawyer, Saroj Ghimire, told AFP he “will appeal the decision” in a higher court.

The victim had claimed she was a minor at the time of the rape, but the court in a previous ruling said she was 18.

‘Eye-opening to others’

The sentencing was welcomed by supporters of the victim.

“This is good news, she has been fighting a long fight,” said women’s rights activist Hima Bista.

“A decision like this in such a high-profile case should be eye-opening to others. But we have to stay vigilant and ensure that he does not get away.”

Lamichhane consistently denied the charge against him and enjoyed strong public support despite the accusation.

When authorities issued an arrest warrant, he 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.

Hundreds of cheering cricket fans welcomed him when he first returned to the field in February last year.

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.

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.

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