KATHMANDU: Former Nepali cricket captain Sandeep Lamic­hhane had his conviction and eight-year sentence for rape quashed on appeal on Wednesday and was cleared to resume his sporting career despite the cloud cast by the case.

Lamichhane 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 suspended by Nepal’s cricket association after his conviction late last year but remained at liberty after his sentencing to await the outcome of his appeal.

“I am grateful to everyone for all the support during this time,” Lami­chhane said outside the court, where he was greeted by cheering fans.

“In the coming days, I will try as much as possible to take Nepal much higher than I did before.”

The Cricket Association of Nepal said Lamichhane was free to resume his career.

“He has been released from suspension from all domestic and international cricket activities,” association president Chatur Bahadur Chand said in a statement.

The verdict and the swift end of his suspension come two weeks before Nepal are due to begin their Twenty20 World Cup campaign in the US and West Indies.

Nepal’s squad has already departed but Lamichhane could still be a late inclusion, according to the tournament’s rules.

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

Dozens of fans cheered and celebrated outside the court after the verdict 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.

Lamichhane was once the poster boy for cricket in Nepal and his on-field success as a leg-spinner dramatically boosted the sport’s profile in the Himalayan republic.

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 initial playing ban when he was freed on bail. This allowed him to remain on the national team, including for last year’s 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.

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 game’s world governing body, the Intern­ational Cricket Council (ICC), 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.

Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2024

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