KATHMANDU, April 17: Kavrepalanchok District Court has slapped life imprisonment on three officers of the then Royal Nepal Army for the murder of Maina Sunar, a teenage girl, at the time of the Maoist insurgency.
According to District Court Registrar Krishna Adhikari, the bench of Judge Medini Prasad Paudel convicted Boby Khatri, a colonel at the time, and then captains Sunil Prasad Adhikari and Amit Pun in the murder, and slapped life terms on them.
The bench, however, acquitted Major Niranjan Basnet, stating that the evidence against him was insufficient. Khatri, Adhikari and Pun are no longer in the army.
The judge further opined that it would be appropriate to make the convicted three serve only five years in jail as the crime took place while they were carrying out their work.
However, this is only an individual opinion and carries no significance unless an appeals court upholds it.
Maina, a 15-year-old school girl in Kharelthok VDC-6 of Kavrepalanchowk district, was arrested by the army personnel on February 17, 2004. Following her disappearance, the family and human rights advocates pressured the government over her whereabouts and it later emerged that she had been murdered.
The government attorney filed a murder case only on January 31, 2008, at Kavrepalanchok District Court. The case was filed on the basis of a written complaint lodged by Maina's mother Devi Sunar on November 13, 2005 against Khatri, Basnet, Adhikari and Pun.
The army later said it had arrested Maina because her mother had helped the Maoist rebels. Though the army initially denied detaining Maina, it later admitted that she had died in its custody.
Since then, the army had been claiming that it had formed its own Court of Inquiry on March 14, 2005 to investigate the case. It claimed that the Court of Inquiry headed by Major General Kiran SJB Rana had convicted Khatri, Adhikari and Pun and sentenced each of them to six-month jail terms.
Likewise, the Court of Inquiry had barred Khatri's promotion for two years and that of Adhikari and Pun for one year. However, Basnet was acquitted. The army made the verdict public only after a year. It said Adhikari and Pun had resigned following the verdict.
Maina's mother had also filed a writ petition at the Supreme Court over the delay by Nepal Police in investigating the murder. It was following this that the army had disclosed the Court of Inquiry's verdict. By then the District Police Office Kavre had exhumed Maina's remains on March 23, 2007.
On September 18, 2007, the Supreme Court ordered the police to complete its investigations and file a case at the district court. The police filed the case only after the Supreme Court order.
Responding to the case, the district court ordered the defendants twice in 2008 to appear in court within 70 days. It was later learnt that Basnet was still serving in the army, which has refused to hand him over to police.
Following the refusal of the defendants to appear in court, the district court in January 2016 reopened the murder case. It had been put on hold in 2014.
The bench of Judge Awani Mainali Bhattarai had then ordered the case to be reopened since the time limit for keeping it on hold had already ended.
Since the defendants did not appear in court in the two years' time given for the purpose, they will not have any right to appeal against the verdict. However, Maina's family can still appeal against the district court's verdict.