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Life-sized “Dharmapalas” in a hidden room inside an ancient monastery in Mustang, Nepal. These “protective deities” are meant to keep monasteries and the residents around them safe from harm. Photo: Al Jazeera

About 80% of Nepal’s religious artifacts are believed to have been stolen and sold abroad, with plundered ancient statues fetching millions on the black market.

Behind the scenes: An Al Jazeera investigation led to police raids on antiquities shops in Kathmandu, where ancient treasures were on sale. Police announced in a subsequent press conference that of the many artifacts sold illegally, “some made it to the USA, and some of those to museums.”

One museum under investigation, police told Al Jazeera, is the Rubin Museum in New York. The Rubin Museum told Al Jazeera they have never knowingly acquired objects that have been illicitly traded, smuggled or stolen and have strong guidelines against it.

Why it matters…

  • “We’re suffering cultural heritage loss at an alarming rate,” Tashi Bista, who has spent the last decade studying the region’s religious icons and fighting to protect them, told Al Jazeera. “Because items that are such a big part of our living heritage have such a large market value, it somehow fuels the happening of such things.”
  • “The more ancient the things are in religious places of worship, the more stories and histories and tales of their worship have been passed down for generations,” Bista adds. "And when it’s gone, of course the faith is also gone.”

Go deeper: Watch the full report from Al Jazeera’s 101 East.

Go deeper

Updated 3 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

  1. Health: CDC director defends agency's response to pandemic — CDC warns highly transmissible coronavirus variant could become dominant in U.S. in March.
  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
Dave Lawler, author of World
3 hours ago - World

Alexey Navalny detained after landing back in Moscow

Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.

Mike Allen, author of AM
5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.