In cases involving members of Chand-led outfit, police are violating court ordersMembers of the group have been rearrested multiple times despite courts ordering their release citing the lack of evidence.
Ignoring repeated court orders, Nepal Police has been re-arresting leaders of the Netra Bikram Chand-led Communist Party of Nepal immediately after releasing them, in what is reminiscent of the days when officials treated detainees during the decade-long armed conflict.
Since December 28, police have arrested Uma Bhujel, a politburo member of the Chand-led outfit at least 14 times. Bhujel, who was first arrested in Sunsari on charge of her involvement in violent activities, was released on bail by the Sunsari District Court for lack of evidence against her.
But police rearrested her on the court premises and took her to Danusha, where the district court ordered that she be freed. After arresting her from the court premises, again, police took her to Saptari after they failed to present any evidence against her at 12 different places.
Senior Advocate Ek Narayan Bhandari, Bhujel’s lawyer, said the police department did not abide by court orders in cases related to the Maoists during the insurgency. “It is exhibiting a similar approach when it comes to people like Bhujel,” he said.
It has been 14 years since the Maoists ended their war against the state and one of the Maoist leaders, Ram Bahadur Thapa, helms the Home Ministry under which falls the country’s police department.
Thapa and Chand once were comrades in arms. Years after the Maoist party, led by Pushpa Kamal Dahal, decided to join mainstream politics, both Thapa and Chand had deserted the party and formed the Nepal Comunist Party-Maoist along with Mohan Baidya in 2012.
But two years later, Chand decided to part ways with Thapa and Baidya. In 2016, Thapa returned to Dahal’s Maoist party, which in 2018 merged with then CPN-UML.
In the KP Sharma Oli government, Thapa was appointed the home minister. Weeks after two blasts in the Capital resulting in one person’s death, the government on March 12 last year declared the Chand-led party a criminal outfit and banned all its activities.
Thapa as the home minister now treats leaders of his one-time comrade’s party as the state’s enemies.
“Despite the court order to free her, police wanted to arrest her again, but she somehow managed to flee,” said Bhandari.
According to Bhandari, who fought dozens of cases on behalf of then Maoist leaders and cadres during the insurgency, the way police are defying court orders in cases related to members of the Chand group resembles arrests of people during the conflict.
After police kept on arresting Bhujel despite court orders to release her, her lawyer had filed a habeas corpus petition in the Supreme Court demanding that police present her before the bench. The Supreme Court on August 30 directed Saptari police to release her in the presence of a district judge and representatives from the Nepal Bar Association.
“It’s an irony that the police force, which is now under the command of a former Maoist leader, is resorting to the same techniques that had sent hundreds of rebels behind bars,” said Bhandari.
Since declaring the Chand party a criminal outfit in March last year, police have arrested hundreds of leaders and cadres of the Communist Party of Nepal.
“The Maoists fought the war to usher in a change. But it has become clear that nothing has changed,” said Bhandari. “Just a different set of people has come to power. It’s a shame that those who once vowed to change the system have been co-opted and are behaving like the actors of the same old system they once loathed.”
Even though police have been arresting Chand outfit leaders charging them with their involvement in illegal, criminal and violent activities, they have largely failed to support their actions with evidence, resulting in court orders to release the arrestees.
But the police are blatantly defying the court orders, said Bhandari.
The latest example is Anil Sharma, a central committee member of the group.
The Danusha District Court on Tuesday directed police to release Sharma on bail.
However, he was rearrested immediately after the court order and handed over to Sunsari police. He had been brought to Dhanusha from Chitwan last week after Chitwan District Court had ordered his release.
Bhandari said he has fought at least 30 cases on behalf of detainees like Bhujel and Sharma since March.
“The rearrests aren’t just contempt of court, they are also in violation of the Constitution of Nepal,” he said.
Article 128 (4) of the constitution says that if anyone obstructs the dispensation of justice, or disregards any order or judgment handed down by the Supreme Court or any of its subordinate courts, the Supreme Court may, in accordance with the law, initiate and impose punishment for contempt.
Nepal Police officials, including the inspector general, face a contempt of court case for failing to abide by the Supreme Court’s order to release Hari Adhikari, another leader of the Chanda-led party. Adhikari, according to Bhandari, was arrested at the gates of the Supreme Court in April despite orders to release him on bail for lack of evidence.
“Everyone should abide by court rulings. Police can’t hold someone captive just because s/he follows Chand’s ideology,” said Bhandari. “There must be proof to establish they are actually involved in violence.”
During the insurgency days, on various occasions, the court would order the release of then Maoist leaders and cadres in the presence of officials from the National Human Rights Commissions but police officials would immediately rearrest those ordered released.
According to officials at the constitutional rights watchdog, dozens of Maoist leaders and cadres were saved from being rearrested as police wouldn’t dare detain them under the commission’s watch.
However, last year, police tried to forcibly enter the banned group’s office in Nepalgunj to arrest cadres, who were earlier released by the Banke District Court. The commission had given refuge to the cadres following the court’s order.
“It seems that then Maoist leaders have forgotten what they went through during the conflict,” Bed Bhattarai, secretary at the commission, told the Post. “We have received complaints that police haven’t been adhering to court rulings.”
Meanwhile, an aide to Home Minister Thapa said a single person might have cases against him/her in various districts. Therefore, they have to be arrested multiple times, he said.
Surya Subedi, Thapa’s aide and a central member of the Nepal Communist Party, said it would be wrong to compare the conflict period with the present times.
“Even if the Chand-led party comes to power, it will have to govern based on the constitution and the law. I believe police are working based on existing laws,” he told the Post. “We, however, are ready to make amends if there have been some mistakes.”
Rights activists say the act of repeatedly arresting individuals defying court orders is an attack against the rule of law.
“How can we expect the rule of law to strengthen in the country when police are violating court orders,” said Raju Chapagain, a human rights lawyer. “Though the country has gone through a huge political change, the police administration continues to function as it used to during the time of insurgency.”