Supreme Court orders release of a man languishing in jail for no apparent crimeUma Shankar Rayabhar’s release order comes after continuous reporting on how the poor man was framed. Legal experts say the case shows many problems in the system.
Tika R Pradhan
The Supreme Court on Friday ordered the release of Uma Shankar Rayabhar who has been doing time in Nakkhu prison for a crime he never committed.
A division bench of Justices Bishwambhar Prasad Shrestha and Sapana Pradhan Malla issued the order, saying Rayabhar be released on a bail of Rs25,000.
Rayabhar had been in jail for the last 11 months after failing to post a bail of Rs7.5 million demanded by the Patan High Court.
The Supreme Court order on Friday comes as a respite for Rayabhar but it also exposes the labyrinthine judicial system which often afflicts pain on the poor of the country who lack access.
A resident of Bara district, Rayabhar, who has only studied till the fifth grade, wanted to become a motorbike mechanic. He was brought to Kathmandu by one of his village acquaintances, Uma Shankar Sahani, when he was 16.
About six years ago, Sahani, along with Saroj Kumar Mishra of Godaita-8, Sarlahi who was living at Koteshwar, asked for Rayabhar’s citizenship certificate. His fingerprints were taken on many documents. He was lured with a job.
They also took his photo for the documents.
Mishra then registered Blue Cross Traders and Jen Suppliers Pvt Ltd in the name of Rayabhar. Using the two companies, Sahanit and Mishra evaded Rs280 million in taxes.
When a case was registered at the Patan High Court for tax fraud, the Revenue Investigation Department caught Rayabhar.
A poor man from Bara was suddenly accused of tax evasion—the amount stood at Rs280 million.
A division bench of judges Achyut Bista and Dipendra Bahadur Bam on March 3 last year set a bail of Rs7.5 million for Rayabhar. There was no way he could post the bail. He was sent to jail.
While issuing the order on Friday, the Supreme Court annulled the decision of the Patan High Court to demand Rs7.5 million, saying that it was not justifiable.
“Free Rayabhar on a bail of Rs25,000 in cash or kind and continue with the legal process,” states the order.
The court has noted that Mishra had taken all the charges of at least two companies and their transactions and enjoyed all the benefits even though Rayabhar was the owner of the companies just on the papers and the latter was not found to have been directly involved in wrongdoings.
The Post’s sister paper Kantipur over the past few weeks ran a series of stories on how Rayabhar became the victim and how he was put behind bars despite not committing a crime.
Legal experts say the way Rayabhar was framed shows how the poor are easily exploited and that it also demonstrates how the poor often fall victim to the complicated judicial system of the country.
“The Supreme Court made the right decision. Otherwise, this man would have been forced to spend his crucial years in prison,” said Balaram KC, a former Supreme Court justice. “This man got justice because his story was reported. There are so many such cases in which poor people are forced to bear the brunt of the crimes committed by the rich, who often exploit legal loopholes.”
The case of Rayabhar, 24, was registered at the Supreme Court with the help of advocate Radhika Khatiwada on December 31 last year. After learning from media reports, Khatiwada decided to take up the case pro bono.
“I think there are many issues that contribute to such incidents where poor people are made easy targets by the rich and powerful,” Khatiwada told the Post. “If I had not taken this case, Rayabhar might have languished in prison for many years as eight of the accused are still at large, and without their presence, the case would have continued in the court forever.”
Legal experts say how Rayabhar had to spend time in prison for not committing any crime also shows many problems in the system.
“If you talk about developed countries, they don’t allow anyone having no proof of the capital to register a company and they also need to show their transactions and bank records,” said KC, the Supreme Court justice. “But in this case, the person who languished in jail was not even present. His thumbprints and photos were used to establish companies which evaded taxes for which a poor man was arrested.”
But according to Khatiwada, laws should be made stricter with more prison sentences for tax evaders so that such offenders do not get back to business within a week or two.
“I think it's also the failure of revenue investigators who should have done proper investigations on what kind of people are involved in such a fraud,” said Khatiwada.
Rayabhar’s case, according to sociologists, shows a deep-rooted systematic problem in the country.
Prof Chaitanya Mishra, a sociologist, says more awareness and education is needed among the common people.
“But the main thing is there should be some sensitisation among authorities who look into cases more carefully,” said Mishra. “Those who committed fraud must be shamed publicly as well so as to stop such crimes.”
“Most of the time people who are said to have some social repute are involved in frauds because the poor people trust them,” Mishra told the Post. “And there is yet another problem. In our society, many court cases are won based on caste and money.”
Despite the Supreme Court order, Rayabhar, however, could not get out of the jail on Friday even though his kin were ready to pay the set bail amount. A letter from the Supreme Court had to be submitted to the Patan High Court along with Friday’s decision which could not be done on time.
Court officials said he is likely to be freed on Sunday.
Rayabhar’s elder brother Santosh Rayabhar, who is currently working in Qatar, said he was still confused about the court order.
“The Supreme Court has given us justice… but I don’t know. Has my brother been exonerated? Does the court order mean he never committed a crime?” said Santosh over the telephone from Qatar. “I am just happy at this moment that my brother is getting freed.”
According to KC, the former Supreme Court justice, authorities including the Nepal Police and the Commission for Investigation of Abuse of Authority should form a study panel and come up with something to talk about how innocent people like Rayabhar can be protected from such frauds.
“If they think they are there to serve the nation and the people, they should take this incident as an eye opener,” said KC, “and they should bring necessary reforms.”
Tufan Neupane, the reporter for Kantipur paper who did a series of stories on Rayabhar, said it was quite satisfying to see the man, who was actually framed, getting out of jail.
“As a journalist, I just did my job and told his story,” said Neupane. “Credit goes to the lawyers who took up the case and fought the case on behalf of Rayabhar.”