Public opinion about journalist Rishi Dhamala changed dramatically after his arrest on 3 February. President of the reporter's club for the last 11 years, Dhamala now faces charges of possession of arms and ammunition, kidnap and murder. The allegations made by the police against Dhamala were formed on the basis of a telephone conversation Dhamala had with Ramsubhak Mahato, who heads Ranbir Sena in the Valley. Mahato, who was arrested the day before Dhamala, says he secretly recorded his conversation with Dhamala in which someone sounding like him makes a deal with Mahato to extort Rs 3-4 million from an unidentified businessman. Dhamala's lawyer Tikaram Bhattarai says the tape doesn't prove he is guilty of possessing arms, of kidnap or murder. Dhamala has also claimed that the recorded voice is not his. Courts do not accept cassettes as a form of evidence under Nepali law. Lawyers also say the police is shifting the goalposts by changing the charge against Dhamala when there was no evidence to back the original charge.
Most people both within the country and in India know Rishi Dhamala for his close relationship with India's political leaders. Colleagues say Dhamala has always shown an interest in political activities. He was said to have a close relationship with Sujata Koirala, daughter of Girija Koirala and later even with Prime Minister and Maoist commander Pushpa Kamal Dahal. On 13 September, before his visit to India, Dahal reportedly told Dhamala: "If India is ready to help me then I am ready to help India in any way possible." Dhamala secretely recorded this conversation and is said to have played the tape to Dahal's rival with the party, Mohan Baidya. Dahal was reportedly furious.
A source close to Baidya denies there was any tape. But Rajendra Upacharak, editor of Dhamala's column in Bimarsa says Dhamala has the cassette and will make it public when the time is right.