Conflict victims are expressing doubt over the government’s will to deliver them justice. And now it has been found that the government of K P Sharma Oli is preparing to release murder convict Bal Krishna Dhungel from jail even before he serves his term. If this is what the government is up to then it will badly dent its image and credibility both nationally and internationally. According to the report, Department of Prison Management is under pressure from Ministry of Home Affairs to release Dhungel on the occasion of Republic Day on May 29 through a presidential pardon. It has been learnt that jail authority has already recommended the department to release him citing his “good conduct during his stay in jail.” On the basis of the recommendations, the District Administration Office of Kathmandu has forwarded his name to the prison department, which will then be forwarded for approval to Ministry of Home Affairs currently led by Ram Bahadur Thapa, the leader of erstwhile Maoist Center, to which Bal Krishna Dhungel belonged.
This recommendation is flawed in many ways. There is no solid basis to establish Dhungel’s good conduct. It should be remembered that he had long been walking scot-free even after being proven guilty by the Supreme Court. If he had submitted himself to the police authority abiding by the court verdict, it would have been a different matter. He had been openly challenging the law and order by taking advantage of his political connections. So when he was arrested in October last year, it had given a good message that justice might be delayed but it will still be delivered. With his release, it will set a dangerous precedent that with political protection just about anyone can commit murder, serve the sentence for a few months and walk free. The law, it will be then established, is only for those who are powerless and have no connection with political leaders. It will also be a great injustice to the family of Ujjan Kumar Shrestha of Okhaldhunga, whom Dhungel killed in 1998.
It would be a big mistake to grant impunity to him. Let us not forget that then Prime Minister Baburam Bhattarai of the then Maoist party had also recommended Dhungel for presidential pardon in November 2011 but the court had quashed this recommendation. Giving him impunity will be against the commitment of the current government not to compromise with law and order. It will also give a disturbing message to the conflict victims that government might deal with all the perpetrators of war crimes with clemency. The provision of presidential pardon should not be misused to ensure release of perpetrators of heinous crimes. First of all, the Ministry of Home Affairs should not approve of Dhungel’s release and even if the cabinet meeting endorses this, the office of the president should reject it. The government has no liberty to play with justice. Let him serve the sentence handed down to him by the court.