30 May, Kathmandu: After a hearing today, Supreme Court Chief Justice Khil Raj Regmi has set a hearing for 5 June to consider arguments as to why Minister for Information and Communications Agni Sapkota should not be suspended from his high office. The decision by the single bench was in response to a public interest litigation (PIL) filed on 27 May by eight petitioners demanding that a person absconding from the law in Kavre District, in a case relating to a murder, should not be functioning as a minister of the Government of Nepal.
Minister Sapkota is one of the accused in the abduction and killing of Arjun Bahadur Lama of Dapcha village, Kavre, in June 2005, in a case filed by his spouse Purnimaya Lama. Earlier, when the Kavre police had shown reluctance in pursuing the case, the Supreme Court had responded to a writ petition and ordered that the police receive the complaint of Mrs. Lama and proceed under the law. Accordingly, the complaint was registered in the District Police Office of Kavre and various notices were published in the name of Mr. Sapkota. In the meantime, the person sought by the police went on to contest and win the Constituent Assembly elections of April 2008 and walked about without hindrance, and in May 2011 was elevated to full cabinet minister rank by Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal.
Before the press, Maoist Central Committee member Sapkota has claimed that he was not involved in the killing of Mr. Lama and, alternatively, that actions ordered by the party cannot be laid at the door of an individual. The petitioners in the present case say that Mr. Sapkota is an absconder (faraar byakti) who must submit himself to investigation, and must not be allowed to serve as minister in the interim. He may be reinstated to the position if cleared by the court.
In the Nepali court system, there are many cases of abuse and excess by both state security forces and the former rebels. Among the hundreds of such cases, the human rights community has felt it necessary to pursue certain emblematic cases, including those of the deceased Maina Sunar, Arjun Bahadur Lama, Muktinath Adhikari, Kajol Khatun and what are known as the Doramba, Maadi, Bardiya and Bhairabnath killings. The case of the murder of the late Mr. Lama is significant because the accused has been made a minister of the Government of Nepal. The appointment also represents an attempt by the Maoist Chairman Pushpa Kamal Dahal to push the envelope of impunity that the UCPN (Maoist) has created for itself over the five years in open politics.
The day Mr. Sapkota was appointed minster, the UN human rights agency OHCHR expressed its concern in a statement: “The decision contradicts Nepal’s commitments … towards accountability for serious human rights violations and abuses committed during the conflict, and reinforces the culture of impunity in Nepal.” Earlier, Mr. Sapkota’s visa applications had been denied by Australia and the United States, in February and June 2010, respectively.
This is said to be the first time that the Supreme Court of Nepal has issued an order relating to a charge of murder against a serving minister. The PIL is filed against the Prime Minister, the Home Minister, the Minister for Information and Communication, and the Kavre District Police. The hearing set for 5 June is expected to be a highly charged affair, with the government represented by the Attorney General, supported by Mr. Sapkota’s own lawyers.
The petitioners who filed the PIL against the appointment of Mr. Sapkota are: Former National Human Rights Commission members Sushil Pyakurel and Kapil Shrestha, human rights activists Subodh Pyakurel, Charan Prasai, Mandira Sharma and Gopal Krishna Siwakoti, journalist Kanak Mani Dixit, and lawyer Sunil Ranjan Singh. The lawyers who presented before Chief Justice Regmi today were: Hari Phuyal, Tika Ram Bhattarai, Harihar Dahal, Satish Kharel, Baburam Giri and Govinda Bandi.
– Kanak Mani Dixit, 30 May 2011