The month of October saw the arrest of two senior political leaders – former Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara of Nepal Communist Party (NCP) and Nepali Congress lawmaker Mohmmed Aftab Alam – for their alleged involvement in serious crimes. Mahara was arrested on October 6 on charges of attempting to rape a woman staffer of the Parliament Secretariat whereas Alam was arrested on charges of murder. Media reports stated that Alam and his men tossed 16 to 23 people into a brick kiln after they were injured while bombs were being made at Alam’s relative’s house allegedly to rig the Constituent Assembly elections in 2008. Although Alam was accused of murdering 16 to 23 people, only the families of two victims –Oshi Akhtar and Trilok Pratap Singh—filed First Information Reports (FIRs) against him.

Police made these arrests at a time when the government faces criticism for not taking action against those high profiled persons who have been accused of serious human rights violations. The police, however, have failed to uphold the rule of law. They did not arrest Mahara immediately after the victim publicly accused him of rape. In the case of Alam, the victims’ families lodged FIRs after the incident, yet the police did not arrest him for 12 years.  Therefore, these cases have received serious attention and scrutiny from both the international and national human rights community.

THRD Alliance, which has been closely following the cases, has prepared this situation analysis to update stakeholders about these cases.

Case – 1: Arrest of Speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara on charge of ‘attempted rape’

On 6 October 2019, Nepal Police arrested then speaker Krishna Bahadur Mahara, on charge of attempting to rape a woman staffer of the Parliament Secretariat in her residence. The woman had called up police on 29 September 2019, informing that Mahara attempted to rape her. Police then inspected the crime scene in her room, and collected the whiskey bottle that Mahara had allegedly brought to the victim’s house, and the accused’s broken spectacles from the victim’s apartment, according to media reports.

Mahara is a senior leader of former Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center), which got unified with Communist Party of Nepal-Unified Marxist Leninist. After the unification, the two leftist parties are known by the name of Nepal Communist Party (NCP) since May 2018, which is currently ruling the government. A day after the victim said Mahara attempted to rape her, she told an online portal that the media distorted her statement and Mahara was innocent and he did not do anything to her.

Finally, on 4 October 2019, the woman filed a formal complaint at Baneshwor Police Station accusing Mahara of ‘attempted rape’. The next day (5 October 2019), Kathmandu District Court issued an arrest warrant against Mahara following which the police arrested Mahara. When the police moved ahead their investigation, the victim went to Kathmandu District Court on 20 October 2019, saying that Mahara was innocent and she filed her FIR only after the police coerced her to do that. Repeated changes to the victim’s statement raised suspicions that people close to Mahara might have been intimidating her to retract her statement.

Following the attempted rape allegations, Mahara resigned from his position of speaker.

Police had declined to initiate an investigation immediately after the accusation saying the victim had not lodged FIR. Lawyers, however, state that the police could treat her call as an FIR and should have initiated investigation immediately after the victim made a call to them.

Ex-speaker Mahara was initially kept under judicial custody for 13 days. Later it was extended till 23 October 2019 and again for 7 days till 30 October.

Case – 2 Nepali Congress Leader Aftab Alam Arrested 12 Years After Alleged Crime

On 13 October, Nepal Police arrested Nepali Congress lawmaker, Aftab Alam for allegedly tossing those who were injured in a bomb blast, into a nearby brick kiln during the 2008 elections. As per media reports, eye-witnesses said the injured were thrown into the brick kiln alive in an attempt to destroy evidence of bomb blast.

On 9 April 2008, a blast took place in Rautahat on the eve of the first Constituent Assembly elections. Some Nepalis and Indians allegedly hired by Alam were making bombs in Alam’s relative’s house. Alam was said to be making those bombs to rig the elections next day. In the incidents, comprising of blast and that of brick kiln, 16 to 23 people is said to have lost their lives.

The arrest of Alam was made as per a Supreme Court order. Earlier on 21 June 2019, a joint bench of Justices, Anil Kumar Sinha and Kumar Regmi, ordered the Office of Attorney General to submit the progress in investigation of the incident and current situation within 30 days. Seven years ago, a joint bench of the then SC justices Sushila Karki and Bharat Bahadur Karki had ordered investigation of the case.

Currently, the accused is under judicial custody. Alam was arrested on 13 October, and his detention was extended for five days on 20 October. Similarly, on 25 October, it was extended for eight days.

Our Observation

The human rights community and civil society welcomed the recent arrest of both politicians alleged in serious crimes.

On 4 October 2019, six embassies — Australia, Finland, France, Norway, Switzerland, United Kingdom — and the United Nations in Nepal issued a press release calling on the government to send a clear message of zero tolerance to any forms of gender-based violence by anyone under any circumstances.  Although the international community’s statement mentioned two rape and murder cases – of Nirmala Pant and Maya BK-, it did not mention the case against Mahara. However, the statement appears to have been prompted by Mahara’s case. It may be recalled here that Mahara was arrested only after the release of the press statement.

Law enforcement agencies’ much delayed action against Alam exposed the systematic and structural failure of the responsible institutions – Nepal Police, National Human Rights Commission, Attorney General’s Office, District Administration Office and Judiciary among others. In this case, Ruksana Khatun, the mother of victim Oshi Akhtar, was shot dead by unknown assailants in 2012. All these years, the families of the victims lived in fear of intimidation from Alam and his men. After Ruksana Khatun was killed, other witnesses also feared for their lives. The police have not arrested those responsible for murdering the woman who had expressed fear of being killed for seeking justice for her son. The victims’ family alleged that evidence was destroyed in collusion with police officers, and that police did not carry out a thorough investigation.

Most importantly, the SC order included the following key points:-

  • Who were appointed investigating officers during which period in the complaint filed by Sri Narayan Singh and Ruksana Khatun as per that order, and how has the investigation moved forward?
  • What are the works that have been completed till now?
  • What are the reasons for failure to complete investigation in the past seven years?
  • Do investigate about these questions and coordinate with other relevant bodies for information, and submit a confidential report to this court including detailed periodic details of all the works done until now within 30 days of receiving this order.

The Office of Attorney General would have been held in contempt for failing to submit the progress report as demanded by the court. For this, Alam has been arrested.

These two crimes allegedly committed by politicians tend to confirm the accusation by many in civil society that the police and the justice system have been rendered ineffective by political parties and politicians. Beyond these individual cases, we call on the NHRC, Nepal Police, and the Office of Attorney General to examine the independence of the judiciary and the independence and competence of the police.

This is particularly urgent given the ongoing culture of impunity which is demonstrated by the unwillingness of the political parties to seriously address the human rights violations during the conflict period, which is why they have not allowed the successful implementation of a transitional justice process.  Such a process would, of course, have as one of its main objectives to identify the institutional problems which permitted impunity and diagnose the remedial action which is necessary.  We consider that the failings of the police in these two high profile cases, which have occurred since the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of November 2006, is a continuation of impunity which needs to be addressed by a genuine and comprehensive transitional justice process.