Nepal: over 600 persons arrested on the first anniversary of the royal coup

On the occasion of the first anniversary of King Gyanendra’s royal coup, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has been informed of the arrests of 600 persons engaged in peaceful demonstrations throughout the country. These persons were protesting against the return to autocratic direct monarchic rule and the plethora of human rights abuses that have occurred during the previous 12 months. The AHRC has also issued an urgent appeal which contains information relating to the number of persons detained in various districts, as well as the identities of a number of these detainees: Hundreds of other persons have also been detained during the repression of the pro-democracy movement over the past two weeks.

The demonstrators arrested on February 1, 2006, include political leaders, professors, writers, teachers, an ex-minister, lawyers, human rights defenders and journalists. Hundreds of demonstrators have been injured and many hospitalised as a result of the repressive actions conducted by the security forces. The security forces have reportedly conducted violent baton charges and used stones, tear gas and water canons against the demonstrators. They have even opened fire with live ammunition in some cases, with at least one person, Uddhav Bahadur Singh, having been shot during a demonstration in Surkhet. This protestor was shot in the left leg and has been admitted to Surkhet Hospital for treatment. Some of the arrested demonstrators have reportedly been released, but many more remain in detention, adding to the large number of persons being held following similar arrests over the last two weeks.  

No reasons have been given by the authorities for these arrests, and the arrested persons have not been provided with detention orders or been charged with any specific offences. The government has banned any form of assembly or demonstration in a large number of areas in Nepal, in an effort to stifle the legitimate pro-democracy movement and as a pretext for arresting persons engaged in such activities. 

As an example, in Surkhet District, in the mid-Western region of Nepal, peaceful demonstrations were met with fierce repression. Around 54 persons were arrested and 37 were injured, including around 20 seriously injured persons. One of the injured persons, Rishi Prasad Sharma, who is the district secretary of the CPNUML political party, was reportedly arrested in the district hospital while seeking treatment. Four journalists, who are also associated with reputed human rights organisations, were beaten and arrested before being released three hours later.  Prakash Lamichanne, the representative of the Bheri FM local radio station, was also beaten. The security forces charged the demonstrators with batons, threw stones, fired tear gas and also fired their guns into the air to disperse the demonstrators. They did not allow journalists to take pictures and threatened human rights defenders who were monitoring the rallies. They kicked and beat demonstrators with boots and batons, even after having taken them into custody. Security personnel reportedly broke into adjacent houses and randomly attacked demonstrators and bystanders with stones from the houses’ roofs.  

In a further turn of events that is of great concern to the AHRC, over 100 lawyers have been arrested while participating in events to mark this sinister anniversary in several of the country’s districts. The lawyers arrested in Kathmandu have reportedly already been released. However, many of those detained in other districts are still being held, with some of their number having received three-month “preventive” detention orders under the draconian Public Security Act.

These arrests are only the latest round of mass arrests that have taken place since the pro-democracy movement’s protest activities heightened in mid-January 2006. Initially, these demonstrations were held to protest against the upcoming municipal elections, which are scheduled for February 8, 2006. The elections are widely viewed as a fraudulent attempt by the King to give the impression that the country is returning to the democratic path, following the coup one year ago. The demonstrations yesterday were further fuelled by the first anniversary of the anti-constitutional putsch by the King, and were met with even more intense repression.

In an attempt to justify his actions over the last year, during a televised statement to mark the first anniversary, King Gyanendra claimed that the country was headed in the right direction and that “all the Nepalese people have experienced the nation grow in confidence and self-respect of the Nepalese people restored within a short span of one year, with the cloud of pessimism dissipating.” This claim was made despite two weeks of violently enforced curfews, communications blackouts, mass arrests and widespread demonstrations, which cap a year in which Nepal’s human rights record has hit new lows. The King further underlined his disconnect with reality when claiming that the Maoist insurgency had been reduced to “just a few sporadic criminal activities.” The AHRC has received reports that on the previous day, January 31, 2006, over 20 security personnel were killed and some 200 were missing following a concerted series of attacks by the Maoists – their largest operation since their unilateral ceasefire expired on January 2, 2006. 

At the time of the royal coup, the King claimed that his actions were necessary in order to more effectively prosecute the conflict against the Maoists. However, one year later, the Maoists are stronger than ever and all that has been sacrificed is the Nepali people’s security and human rights. The AHRC condemns all acts of violence by any of the parties to the conflict and calls for both the Maoists and the Nepalese security forces under the King to initiate and hold to a ceasefire and conduct peace negotiations, against a background of democratic, all-inclusive multi-party elections.

Throughout the year, the human rights of the people of Nepal have been wantonly sacrificed. Torture remains systematic, illegal and incommunicado detention is rife, forced disappearances remain at world-record levels, mass arbitrary arrests continue in response to legitimate peaceful demonstrations, with political activists, student leaders and human rights defenders being particularly targeted. The King has become isolated at both the national and international levels and, as a result of his direct rule, must be held directly responsible for all of the many acts being perpetrated in the country that constitute grave human rights violations and, in the AHRC’s analysis, amount to crimes against humanity.