Year dotted with plenty of disrepute and few redeeming moments for Nepal PoliceThe police-public relations, which have always been a rocky one, saw no improvement this past year.
While crimes like murder, human trafficking, rape, kidnapping, fraud, robbery and smuggling of drugs and firearms continued to rear their ugly heads in 2019, the year also saw a rise in cyber theft and fraud cases.
Nepal Police, meanwhile, struggled to keep a check on crimes, with hit-and-miss results.
Here’s a look back at major incidents of crime, arrest and challenges and controversies faced by the law enforcement agency in 2019.
Arrest of lawmaker Alam and former House Speaker Mahara
Nepali Congress lawmaker Mohammand Aftab Alam was arrested in October in connection to the 2008 Rautahat explosion and the subsequent murder of as many as 23 people. Alam’s arrest was one of the high points of Nepal Police in 2019.
Another high-profile arrest made by Nepal Police this past year was of former Speaker of the House of Representatives Krishna Bahadur Mahara. Accused of attempted rape by a female staffer at the Parliament Secretariat, Mahara was taken into police custody on October 13. The Mahara scandal was not without controversy though. When the incident first broke out in the press, the Nepal Police was pilloried for refusing to file a complaint from the victim. Following protests from the public and women’s rights organisations, former Speaker was finally arrested and charged with attempted rape allegations.
The arrest of Alam and Mahara restored the waning trust of public in police.
Nepal’s interpol bureau brings fugitive hiding in US to justice
On October 23, 2019, for the first time, a Nepali man convicted of rape and murder in Nepal was deported by the US authorities, acting on a red corner notice issued by the Interpol General Secretariat two years ago. The arrest of Lila Raj Gautam, 49, was carried out at the request of Nepal’s Interpol National Central Bureau.
Gautam was convicted, along with Manoj Khadka and Sitaram Basnet, by the Supreme Court in 2009 for the rape and murder of 14-year-old Sandhya Rajbanshi of Chandragadi, Jhapa. While Khadka and Basnet were arrested by police, Gautam had fled to India and eventually made his way to the US. Upon learning that Gautam was hiding in the US, the Central Investigation Bureau of Nepal Police on October 12, 2017, had issued a red corner notice. Acting on the notice, the US police arrested Gautam and sent him to Nepal to serve his sentence.
The year ‘Police, my friend’ went beyond trite
The police-public relations, which have always been a rocky one, saw no improvement this past year. The “Police, my friend” campaign of Nepal Police was contradicted on many occasions by the law enforcement officers when they resorted to use of unwarranted force in the name of maintaining peace and order. The Nepal Police personnel wasted no time in swinging their canes and firing tear gas volleys at slightest of provocation during rallies and demonstrations.
In July, police shot dead 27-year-old Kebal Mahato of Ishwarpur Municipality in Sarlahi district during a rally. There was also the controversy surrounding the alleged extrajudicial killing of Kumar Paudel, leader of the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal, in Sarlahi.
The other incidents that displayed the callousness of Nepal Police was its handling of rallies that erupted in Chitwan following the arrest of TV presenter Rabi Lamichhane over the suicide of journalist Salikram Pudasaini and its brutal supression of a demonstration, mostly attended by schoolchildren, that broke out after 12-year-old Prakriti Chand was hit by a truck outside her school.
These incidents earned nothing but disrepute to the police.
At Xi’s service
Apart from the challenges of enforcing law and order and reputation-tarnishing controversies, Nepal Police also had some commendable moments in 2019. Its role in arranging security for the visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping was one of them. For the two-day state visit of President Xi, all four security agencies—Nepal Police, Armed Police Forece, National Investigation Department and Nepal Army—were mobilised and they did an admirable job. The role of these security agencies were also crucial during the visit of Bangladeshi President Mohammad Abdul Hamid and the 13th edition of South Asian Games.
Busting new breed of criminals
Nepal Police in September arrested 12 people, including some hundi operators, for their involvement in stealing Rs47.3 million from the Agriculture Development Bank and Rs1.2 million from Panas Remittance. After the suspects were arrested, it was revealed that the gang had plans to steal money worth $50 million from different banks through credential hacking. Though the exact modus operandi of the racket is still unclear, police strongly suspect the involvement of hackers based in Mumbai. The hackers had apparently used malware to gather information and steal credentials, which were later used to plunder bank accounts.
On December 23, the Nepal Police arrested 122 Chinese nationals from different parts of Kathmandu. Although the police has not offered a clear explanation as to why they were arrested, it is said that they were involved in financial crimes and cybercrimes.
No justice for Nirmala Pant
It’s been almost 17 months since 13-year-old Nirmala Pant of Kanchanpur was brutally raped and murdered, but police are nowhere close to identifying and arresting the perpetrator(s). Rights activists, Kanchanpur locals and the public organised a series of protests seeking justice for Pant ever since her body was found on July 27, 2018. Kanchanpur locals had started protesting the day Pant’s body was found. The protests intensified after police were accused of tampering with evidence and framing Dilip Singh Bista in the case. During one of the protest rallies, 17-year-old Sunny Khuna was killed by a bullet fired by the police on August 24, 2018. Twenty-year-old Arjun Bhandara, who was seriously injured in the police firing, remains barely conscious at the Tribhuvan University Teaching Hospital.
The police mishandling of the Pant rape and murder case and their use of violence to quell the protesters had led to the escalation of protests across the country. There was no significant progress in the case in 2019. All that the Nepal Police and the government have offered so far are the ready-made answers, such as “the investigation is underway” and “we are committed to bringing the guilty to justice.”
On July 23, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa, during a press conference at the Home Ministry, said that the government was firm on arresting the perpetrators, but also flippantly remarked that rape was commonplace in Nepal and that Pant’s rape and murder had been “unnecessarily politicised”.