Panel to investigate youth’s death in prisonLegal experts say the probe team must be independent. Sundar Harijan, who was behind bars instead of a real criminal, died in Rolpa jail under suspicious circumstances.
The Home Ministry on Saturday formed a five-member committee to probe the death of Sundar Harijan, a prisoner who allegedly killed himself by hanging at Rolpa Prison.
The committee is led by Jharendra Prasad Chapagain, director of the Department of Prison Management.
“A five-member probe panel has been formed to investigate the suicide of Sundar Harijan at the prison in Rolpa at 6:30pm on May 16,” the ministry said in a statement. “A proper ground investigation report on what exactly had happened when Harijan committed suicide should be submitted to the Department of Prison Management.”
The move follows a report by the Post’s sister paper Kantipur.
Kantipur on Saturday published a detailed report on the imprisonment of Harijan for a crime committed by another person and Harijan’s death under suspicious circumstances.
Harijan was sent behind bars instead of Bijay Bikram Shah.
Shah was sentenced to five years for extortion while Harijan faced a jail term of one year after getting convicted of theft. Harijan was 17 years and three months old when he was convicted. He was sent to the jail instead of the juvenile correction centre. Convicted children below 18 years of age are sent to the correction centres instead of prison.
The committee has been asked to submit a report within 10 days.
Legal experts, however, have questioned the government’s move of forming the panel under a director of the Prison Department when the jailor of the Rolpa District Court faces questions for swapping the prisoners.
“The probe panel must be independent, led by a former judge with a forensic doctor, a civil servant and a lawyer as members for judicial inquiry to ascertain the cause of death,” said Balaram KC, a former justice of the Supreme Court. “There will be a conflict of interest as the jailor of the concerned prison is under the scanner as the prisoners have been swapped.”
KC said this is just a perfunctory act of the government to show that the government “is doing something”.
“The probe panel could hide the truth instead of revealing it,” KC told the Post. “There must be an independent team to investigate such a serious crime which is not possible without the involvement of the jailor, police and other concerned authorities.”
The Home Ministry also said in its statement that there will be reforms so as to prevent such incidents in future, after the panel submits its report.
But experts are sceptical.
Former chief justice Anup Raj Sharma said the legal aid system of the country should be strengthened to ensure that deprived communities also get justice.
“It’s the duty of the state to save the lives of its citizens but the situation is pathetic,” said Sharma. “We need to strengthen the existing legal aid system, which is limited to pleading at the courts now.”
He said the Nepal Bar Association should also be involved in the legal aid.
According to Sharma, neither the judges of the courts nor the police administration looks into national issues seriously.
“There is an urgent need for reforms in the existing prison administration which still functions the way it did during the Rana regime,” Sharma told the Post.
Human rights activists say this is a well-orchestrated case to release Shah.
In its verdict, the Banke District Court specifically ordered that Harijan be released on September 3, 2020, the day his one year jail term completed. However, he wasn’t released but was transferred to Rolpa Prison on November 23 the same year.
“The verdict to send Harijan to Rolpa Prison instead of a correction centre as well as his prison transfer are suspicious,” Mohna Ansari, a former member of the National Human Rights Commission, told the Post. “Now the case should be investigated, and the jailer should be suspended immediately.”
Former justice KC said that the incident of impersonation is a new trend in Nepal and no law has been drafted to address such crimes yet.
“Besides a separate panel to investigate the jailor of Rolpa Prison where the prisoners were swapped and Harijan died, a law should be drafted to deal with the impersonation of prisoners,” said KC. “All those involved in this case must be brought to book.”
(Binod Ghimire contributed reporting.)