May 30, 2018 02:00 AM NPT
Clemency for murder convict
Republic day is indeed a big day for celebration for Nepalis who fought against 240 years long rule of Shah Kings and led the country toward federal democratic system. Ten years ago, when the country was declared republic, people had hoped all the ills plaguing the country for centuries would come to an end. It is to commemorate the martyrs who sacrificed their lives to lead the country to new era of justice, equality, rule of law, development and prosperity that Jestha 15 (May 29 this year) is celebrated every year. But a decision government took on this special day has raised fears that republican order is not going to be any different from the days of monarchy when people struggled for justice and law was effective enough only to prosecute the commoners without access to corridors of powers. The release of Balkrishna Dhungle has sent a troubling message, dented people’s hope for justice and established the most dangerous precedent in young republic.
As we have maintained in this space several times Dhungel never deserved clemency and he had to serve full sentence for the crime he committed—killing of Ujjan Kumar Shrestha of Okhaldhunga district on June 24, 1998. He walked free after receiving Presidential Pardon by Bidyadevi Bhandari on Tuesday. This is flawed in many ways. First, he has served the sentence only for seven months while the court had slapped him 12 years of jail term and there is no firm basis to establish that Dhungel showed good conduct while in prison (he was arrested and sent to prison in October, 2017). The apex court had to issue special order and the security agencies had to put extra efforts to arrest him as he remained at large for a long time. Second, there had been strong resistance against his release from the media, civil society, victims’ groups and even legal professionals. A writ petition had been filed last Thursday at the Supreme Court demanding to not to award amnesty to Dhungel. The government went ahead with its decision anyway, paying flagrant disregard to these calls, leading Dhungel to walk free and remorseless. He was felicitated at Nepal Communist Party office in Paris Danda where he slammed right-activists and blamed them for making huge profit out of his case.
Dhungel’s clemency smacks of authoritarian tendency of the government. With the president, prime minister, and all other top executives from the same party, there is a real fear that it will go even more authoritarian in the days to come. It has also raised the possibility of the government giving blanket amnesty to the perpetrators of heinous crimes committed both by warring Maoists and the state forces during the insurgency. This would be a grave mistake. There are real chances of these cases being internationalized. Sabitri Shrestha, sister of Ujjan Shrestha, who had been fighting to get her brother’s murderer to book, has made it clear that she is not going to give up and that she will raise this issue to international human rights committees and other forums. There is already an impression among the people that political leaders have not lived up to true spirits of democratic republic and that they are behaving much like kings of the past—taking decisions arbitrarily without paying any heed to public concerns. KP Oli’s government had a wonderful opportunity to ensure that the days ahead under his leadership are going to be different and justice will not be compromised under his watch. He has given the indication that he might go to any extent for the sake of entrenching his grip to remain in power. This only spells more trouble in the young republic.