Top court upholds Resham Chaudhary’s life sentenceHe was handed life term by lower courts for links to the Tikapur lynchings in which 8 people were killed in 2015.
The Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld the decisions of lower courts to convict Resham Lal Chaudhary, a former lawmaker, in connection with the August 2015 Tikapur incident that saw seven police personnel and a toddler killed.
Rejecting Resham’s plea for a clean chit, a division bench of justices Anand Mohan Bhattarai and Nahakul Sudedi concluded that he should face life imprisonment. Resham, along with ten others—who were convicted by the Kailali District Court on March 6, 2019 and by the Dipayal High Court on December 18, 2020—had moved the apex court.
While the Supreme Court decided to give continuation to life imprisonment given to five people including Resham, it gave clean chits to Sita Ram Chaudhary and Ganga Ram Chaudhary, and has directed the Kailali District Court and the prisons concerned to immediately release them.
The Bhattarai-led bench also has revised the Dipayal High Court’s decision to give life sentence to Laxman Tharu and reduced his sentence to three years. He has already completed the jail term. “The demand from other defendants [Resham Chaudhary and others] for clean chits has been quashed,” reads the apex court verdict.
In 2019, the Kailali district court had given life sentences to 11 people including Resham. It handed 12 others three years of imprisonment while one other person got six months.
The convicts had appealed in the High Court, which largely upheld the district court’s verdict. The High Court upheld the life terms given by the district court to Resham, Hari Narayan Chaudhary, Pradip Chaudhary, Bir Bahadur Chaudhary, Rajesh Chaudhary, Sitaram, and Gangaram, among the 11 persons. It increased Laxman Tharu’s jail term to life imprisonment. He had been given three years of jail by the district court. Besides, it gave 10 years of imprisonment to four others.
Dissatisfied with the high court’s order, Resham and others appealed in the apex court, which has now turned down their requests for clean chits.
The Tikapur incident happened on August 24, 2015 during a protest organised by the Tharu community against a government decision to lump Kailali district in a province with other seven hill districts. The Tharu community had been protesting for months in the run-up to the promulgation of the constitution demanding a separate Tharuhat province comprising several historically Tharu-dominated districts.
On that day, the Tharuhat group had asked its supporters to come out in protest by ignoring the prohibitory orders imposed by the local administration. Violent clashes occurred between protesters and police that resulted in eight deaths. And on September 15, 2015, police filed murder charges against Resham and others.
Resham went into hiding. But in the parliamentary elections in 2017, the Rastriya Janata Party-Nepal fielded him as a candidate from Kailali-1. He was still underground when he won the election with a huge margin. Although he was sworn in as member of the lower house on January 3, 2019, he couldn’t work as a lawmaker.
He surrendered before the Kailali District Court on February 26, 2018.
The Janata Samajbadi Party and the Loktantrik Samajbadi Party pressed the government for his release. Although successive governments tried to get him released by revising laws, they didn’t succeed. Prior to the 2017 elections, Resham’s wife Ranjita Shrestha launched the Rastriya Unmukti Party arguing that the Madhesh-based parties never made a serious attempt to secure the release of her jailed husband.
Ranjita’s party fared well in all three—local, provincial and the federal—elections and has four lawmakers in the House of Representatives. Shrestha is a minister in the current government.
Rastriya Unmukti Party leaders expressed their disappointment at the Supreme Court verdict. “This is not what we expected. However, we have to abide by the order because we don’t have other alternatives,” Ratan Thapa, the party’s general secretary, told the Post. “Our party will come up with an official position on the matter Wednesday.”
Human rights activists, however, have welcomed the court’s verdict. The decision is in the victims’ favour, they say. “There was a fear the government would promote impunity by withdrawing his [Resham’s] case. The Supreme Court has given a rest to the attempt,” Charan Prasai, a human rights activist, told the Post. “The victims have gotten justice.”