Kathmandu: The government on Sunday introduced an ordinance to amend National Criminal Procedure (Code) Act (2017).
The ordinance has been crafted in such words it provides the right to the government to withdraw criminal cases against any political parties or groups involved in heinous crimes. In case, any political parties or groups have conducted violent activities in defiance of existing political system of the nation and in case such political parties or groups commit to peaceful political activities as per the constitution of Nepal and existing laws to come to the mainstream politics, and if an agreement to that effect has been reached with the government of Nepal, the cases against such political parties and the groups may be withdrawn, says the ordinance. It allows the government to withdraw even such cases which may be sub-judice at any court of Nepal.
It is clear why the Nepali Congress and CPN-Maoist Center–two major parties in the ruling alliance–are bent on pushing this ordinance. The parties in the ruling coalition fall short of two seats to give continuity to this coalition in the new government.
For this, the ruling parties have approached Nagarik Unmukti Party, considered to be the brainchild of Resham Chaudhary, who has been pronounced guilty of masterminding a massacre in Tikapur of Kailali in 2015 and who is currently serving life sentence in Dilli Bazaar jail.
Nagarik Unmukti Party holds four seats–enough to achieve majority status for forming the new government.
Government justifies the move
The government has justified the ordinance in the name of bringing those involved in politics of violence into the mainstream politics. Gyanendra Bahadur Karki, the minister of Communication and Information Technology who is also the spokesperson of the government, on Monday defended the move by saying that the ordinance was introduced to bring political parties or groups involved in politics of violence against the political system to the mainstream.
He said that similar ordinance had been brought in the past too.
On June 1, 2021, KP Oli-led government had signed a six-point agreement with the Tharuhat Joint Struggle Committee which said that efforts will be made to withdraw the cases against Resham Chaudhary, Dhaniram Chaudhary, and Laxman Chaudhary, the accused in the Tikapur killing. Efforts will be made to withdraw cases and secure the release of these people, as per the law and the constitution, read the six-point agreement. There had been widespread opposition to this agreement by the Oli government, including by Nepali Congress leaders.
A month later, Oli’s government was ousted from power.
When Nepali Congress was in opposition it used to be a vocal critic of the UML-led government’s move to ‘rule by ordinance.’ Sher Bahadur Deuba was at the frontline to oppose Oli’s move.
What is the Tikapur case?
On August 24, 2015, seven police officers and a two years old child were killed by the violent mass of Tharuhat protestors. Thousands of protesters came into the streets breaking the prohibitory order with household weapons and the mass clashed with police. They killed police officers with spears and they burned one alive.
Resham Chaudhary is convicted by two courts. On March 6, 2019, the District Court, Kailali, issued a verdict of life imprisonment for Resham Chaudhary, the main accused of the Tikapur incident. On December 18, 2020, High Court, Dipayal also continued the verdict of life imprisonment for him.
Chaudhary, as well as other accused convicted by the court, are serving life sentences in Dilli Bazaar jail.
The government’s move to introduce the ordinance to secure release of the convicts in the heinous crimes has met with widespread opposition across the party lines.
Within the Nepali Congress, influential leaders like Dr Shekhar Koirala, General Secretary duo Gagan Thapa and Bishwa Prakash Sharma have vehemently opposed the move. Civil society leaders and human rights activists have also opposed the ordinance.
People are protesting against the move mainly for two reasons. First, this move is feared to set a precedent for granting amnesty to all those accused of heinous crimes during the Maoist insurgency. A number of victims of the war-era crimes are still struggling for justice as transitional justice mechanisms have failed to take the war-era cases to a logical conclusion. The major concern among the human rights activists is that amnesty to the perpetrators of Tikapur massacre can open the door for amnesty to the perpetrators of Gaur massacre and those involved in heinous crimes during the Maoist insurgency.
Second, after the completion of the general elections, the current government has turned completely caretaker. As such, critics say, it has no rights to introduce the ordinance that could potentially help institutionalize impunity. Besides, after the results of the election have been published, formation of a new parliament is only a matter of a few days. Bringing controversial ordinance at this moment also undermines the mandate of the new parliament.
All eyes on president
On Tuesday, Supreme Court Bar Association of Nepal strongly opposed the move of the caretaker government to introduce the ordinance to amend the National Criminal Procedure (Code) Act (2017). The Bar has demanded that the government should immediately withdraw the ordinance from the office of the president.
On Tuesday itself, as many as 13 former police chiefs decried the ordinance and have demanded that the government should revoke the ordinance.
Despite the opposition from all walks of life, the government has forwarded the ordinance to the office of the president for approval. According to the reports, the president is studying the ordinance. Everyone is watching what the president would do.