Lawmakers are unconvinced Chand party member was killed in ‘encounter’Home minister reiterates police version but commits to forming a probe committee.
On Monday, Home Minister Ram Bahadur Thapa drew fierce criticism from lawmakers at a House committee meeting after he read out a report on the killing of a Communist Party of Nepal member in police firing.
Thapa reiterated what Nepal Police has been saying: “Four people on two motorbikes opened fire on police and one of them died on the spot when security personnel fired back in self-defence.”
But Janardan Sharma, a former home minister, said there was some foul play.
“We heard the home minister’s official report and that’s what a minister does—reading out what is prepared by officials,” said Sharma. “But we’re now in the digital age where nothing can be hidden. We should commit to making corrections if we make a mistake; this would only help ensure peace.”
At Monday’s meeting of the State Affairs and Good Governance Committee of the federal parliament, it was an unusual situation for Thapa—he was drawing criticism from those who once were his comrades at arms.
Lawmakers including Sharma said circumstances in which Paudel was killed were suspicious.
Though police maintained that Paudel was killed when security personnel opened fire in retaliation, lawmakers said the incident was indicative of bigger problems that were in the making.
Recalling her days in the Army custody, another lawmaker Rekha Sharma, also a former minister, said she had witnessed several incidents of torture and “fake” encounters.
She challenged the home minister to prove Kumar Paudel’s case was an encounter as “photos show his hands fractured.”
After two blasts in the Capital which killed one person and injured two, the government in March declared the Communist Party of Nepal, led by Netra Bikram Chand, a criminal outfit and banned its activities.
Since then, police have arrested hundreds of Chand party members.
Last month, another Chand party member Tirtha Raj Ghimire was killed in police action in Bhojpur.
At Monday’s House committee meeting, which lasted three hours, Nepal Police chief Sarbendra Khanal tried to explain Paudel’s criminal history.
Enumerating as many as 11 instances of his past criminal records, Khanal tried to justify Paudel’s killing by the police. He also told the House committee that the incident took place when “the situation went out of control”.
“Such incidents don’t happen in normal situations. As many as 640 leaders and caders of the [Chand] party have been arrested [so far],” Khanal told the House committee. “Including this one, there are only two incidents where people have died. Family members of Paudel have already received the body.”
But rights activists said the police chief’s remarks are very concerning.
“If law enforcement officials kill a person after arresting or taking the person under control, it is a serious crime,” Krishna Pahadi, a human rights activist, told the Post.
“Killing in the name of encounter is a crime. On the one hand, an armed outfit is unleashing violence. On the other, the state is committing violence. It is state violence,” he said. “There must be a free and impartial investigation into the incident.”
Chand was Thapa’s long-time ally. They fought the decade-long ‘people’s war’ together and when they deserted Pushpa Kamal Dahal’s party in 2012, they were together again. But two years later, Chand formed his own party to launch what he calls “unified revolution”, and in 2016, Thapa returned to Dahal’s fold and became the home minister.
Thapa now maintains a hard stance against Chand. Last month when four members of the Chand party died in explosions in the Capital, Thapa said they were “not citizens”.
Tirtha Gautam, whose husband Yadu Gautam, was killed by Maoists on March 5, 1999 asked Minister Thapa to remember his past.
“We should remember our past,” said Gautam. “Where are we leading the country? The wounds of the decade-long conflict have yet to heal. Where would the country go if there is another conflict? It does not take a big blaze to raze a forest, a small spark is enough.”
The government’s approach to dealing with the Chand party has drawn flak from security experts as well as ruling party lawmakers, mostly those from the former Maoist party, who say instead of banning its activities, the government should persuade the outfit to join talks.
Amid criticism for what lawmakers say ‘extrajudicial killing’ of the Chand party member, the House committee on Monday directed the Home Ministry to form a probe committee.
Meanwhile, the National Human Rights Commission has said it is also investigating the death of Paudel.
“We have urged the commission to make public the report at the earliest,” Gauri Pradhan, a former member of the national rights watchdog, told the Post. “If the action was taken after taking the person under control, then it cannot be justified regardless of the background of the people whether they are politicians or criminals.”
At the end of the hours-long discussion, Thapa told the House committee that the ministry would launch a probe.
“As per the report received by the Home Ministry, Paudel was killed in the encounter,” Thapa said. “But we will investigate considering reports from the field and photos that have surfaced.”