NEPAL: The Madhesi hunting spree continues

The government’s trend of arresting political leaders and cadres at the forefront of recent Madhes protest, in order to weaken the ongoing Madhes movement, continues.

Earlier, 11 front-line leaders and cadres were arrested by the government in the Terai, something the Asian Human Rights Commission addressed its statement released on 24 February 2016.

Thereafter, last week, two more frontline leaders of agitating parties from Rupandehi and Sarlahi Districts have been arrested. These leaders are Mr. Ramwatar Yadav and Mr. Ashok Yadav; they belong to the Federal Socialist Forum Nepal (FSFN), one of the constituents of the United Democratic Madhesi Front (UDMF). Both of the leaders played an important role during the Madhes movement.

Furthermore, the District Police Office filed a case on 10 March 2016 at the District Court of Mahottari, where 28 persons have been charged with murder of the Armed Police Force ASI Thaman Bahadur B.K. during the peak of Madhes protests, while 25 others have also been charged in the case relating tothe vandalizing of an ambulance.

As the government has chosen to crackdown on the Madhes movement rather than find a negotiated settlement, the arrest of more leaders is likely. This is the reason the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has decided to track the trend of arrests with the assistance of Terai Human Rights Defenders Alliance (THRDA).

And, there are several other related developments that are noteworthy.

The Nepal Army has also blatantly opposed the Judiciary; it has scorned the Supreme Court’s verdict on Dr. C. K. Raut, and has threatened to mobilize Army forces to suppress the Madhesi activists if required.

Addressing a Brigadiers’ conference on 6 March, the Chief of Army Staff (CoAS), General Rajendra Chhetri, targeted the Madhesh Swaraj (Independence) Movement. He threatened to mobilize the Army, saying, “The national army would be immediately mobilized if any situation is created threatening the country’s sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity – the national army cannot just be a mere spectator.” The official press release, has been covered my major news media, including by theNaya Patrika on 7 March 2016.

The Nepal Army has made it clear that it will not spare any groups, political parties and individuals engaged in secessionist activities. The Conference concluded that “It was wrong [for the courts] to let Dr. C. K. Raut go despite all evidences against him for sedition, including his books and video interviews, and it has severely threatened national security.” The Army statement has asked, “When the British arrested Gandhi, he had no guns either, so why should we let Dr. Raut go?”

The AHRC takes these threats and statements from the Nepal Army as extrajudicial and irresponsible, and in contempt of the verdict of the Supreme Court and the Special Court on the sedition charge filed against Dr. C.K. Raut.

It must be noted that though both the Supreme Court and the Special Court have given a clean chit to Dr. Raut on the sedition charge filed on 8 October 2014, the Government of Nepal has again filed a case alleging sedition against him and 16 other activists in January 2016.

Such statements by the Nepal Army on matters that are sub-judice are direct intervention by the Army into the workings of Nepal’s Judiciary. The Army should focus on its own functions, and refrain from engaging in open politics. If the Nepal Army or the Nepal Police start to make political statements, the politicians and political parties may find themselves without a role in society.

On the other hand, the continued Madhesi-hunting spree depicts clear signs that the Prime Minister K.P. Oli led government has been engaging in political vendetta against the Madhesi leaders and cadres. The unlawful arrests are being used for social control in Nepal’s Southern Plains. If it is not stopped at the earliest, there is a high risk for the country plunging into another conflict, this time one that is Madhes-centric.

The situation in Nepal is alarming. Targeting a community witha planned and blatant crackdown is not going to solve the fundamental problem that is causing the protests in Nepal’s Terai. Before it takes a nasty turn and people start pouring out onto the streets against unlawful arrests, the government of Nepal must refrainfrom these arrests, and begin addressing root causes of the friction.

Whenever arrests are necessary, the government must follow thecorrect procedure of arrest, and due process of investigation. The government must take action against criminal activities, but it should not be selective while pressing charges, as law applies to every citizen of Nepal.