KATHMANDU, March 20: Amid warnings from medical experts that overcrowded prisons could help the spread of the novel coronavirus, the government has decided to release on bail or without bail all convicts who were sentenced to less than a year in jail or those who have already served half their terms.
A meeting of Attorney General Agni Prasad Kharel, Chief Registrar of the Supreme Court Nripadhwaj Niroula, Home Secretary Maheshwar Neupane and Law Secretary Rajib Gautam has taken the decision to release the inmates after completing the required legal process, in order to reduce the congestion in prisons across the country.
Officials said that the meeting took the decision to release inmates who have completed more than 50 percent of their jail terms, except if they had committed heinous crimes.
The meeting also decided to write to the Ministry of Home Affairs to invoke the presidential powers of pardon to commute the sentences of convicts who have already completed half their jail terms.
Invoking Article 276 of the Constitution, the government may release detainees other than those who were convicted for serious crimes such as rape, abduction, hostage taking, disappearance, human trafficking, money laundering and killing by taking hostage or inflicting torture.
The meeting also decided to convert jail sentences to fines in the case of those convicted for petty crimes that deserve less than one year in jail, and to invoke for that purpose Section 155 of the Muluki Criminal Procedure Code, 2017.
In a press statement issued Thursday evening, the Office of the Attorney General said it has decided to direct the authorities concerned not to make arrests of suspects at this time of pandemic. The office has directed the authorities to make detailed investigations about suspects before arresting them as there is a higher risk of the spread of the coronavirus in prison if all suspects are put behind bars even during the investigations process.
“Suspects would be arrested only if they pose a threat of destroying evidence,” a highly placed source told Republica. “If they don’t have any hand in destroying evidence, suspects may not be arrested.”
The OAG has also decided to request the Supreme Court to make the necessary provisions to release prisoners on bail or without bail for periodic reappearance in court. The office is mulling to reduce jail terms where possible to reduce congestion in jails across the country.
In the meantime, the government has also decided to focus on the safety of doctors involved in testing for the COVID-19.
Likewise, a committee under the House of Representatives has issued a 10-point directive to the government to prevent a possible outbreak of the COVID-19. It directed the Ministry of Home Affairs and Ministry of Industry, Commerce and Supplies to stop any black marketing in consumer goods.