Life for Chaudhary
In handing down a life sentence to Resham Chaudhary, the federal lawmaker from Kailali district, and 10 others, the Kailali district court made one crucial distinction. It decided that the 2015 killings of eight police personnel and a child in Tikapur, Kailali were not part of a political movement but a purely criminal act. It is hard to call the verdict, which has been nearly four years in the making, hasty. Nor is it the final one. Chaudhary can still knock on the doors of higher courts.
But in the meantime all those who believe in the rule of law must respect the verdict. The Rastriya Janata Party Nepal, Chaudhary’s party, denounced it, arguing that the Tikapur incident was purely ‘political’ and accusing the ruling parties of bias against the Tharu lawmaker. As the people of Kailali elected Chaudhary to the federal parliament, even after the police had filed a murder case against him, shouldn’t the public mandate be honored? In fact, one condition for the RJPN’s support to the Oli government was Chaudhary’s release from jail (which didn’t happen) and his swearing-in as an MP (which did).
The sequence of events raises troubling questions. Why did the Election Commission accept Chaudhary’s candidacy even after a murder case was filed against him? Why wasn’t the investigation report of the Tikapur incident made public? And why did the Oli government swear in Chaudhary even when he was in jail, making it appear like it was a ‘political case’ all along? Now, what if Kailali and the rest of Madhes again erupts against the ‘unjust’ conviction?
The ruling parties have repeatedly scarified due process for convenience. For instance, with the ruling Nepal Communist Party’s near absolute hold on power, President Bidya Devi Bhandari ‘pardoned’ the murder-convict Balkrishna Dhungel. A question will naturally arise: If Dhungel can be pardoned, why can’t Chaudhary? The communist government has also run roughshod over the transitional justice process, by undercutting even the Supreme Court.
If the rule of law was inviolable and there were no double-standards in the treatment of those in power and those outside, Chaudhary’s would have been a more straightforward case. The politicians’ tendency to do what is convenient for them rather than what is right has eroded public faith in all state institutions. Allowing due process to take its natural course in this case would be the best way to restore some of that faith.
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