Pradesh Bahadur Bista says he knew that he was suspected of being a Maoist in his home district of Bara. He was an active member of the CPN (Masal) and openly supported the rebels at rallies. "But I never carried a gun or gave them money," he says.
One day about five years ago he went to the police in Jitpur, discussed his rumoured links to the Maoists and signed a paper that he believed cleared his name. Soon after, two men on a motorcycle came to his house in Kathmandu one morning. They asked him to identify himself and then made a call on a mobile phone. A van appeared.
"They told me they wanted to ask some questions and they would send me back after a while," recalls Bista, 47, a small man with greying hair and a thick moustache. A hood was placed over his head as the van drove around Kathmandu for half an hour and then stopped. "Two of them took me inside and flung me to the ground. They stretched out my legs and lifted them straight into the air," says Bista, leaning back to demonstrate. "Two sat on my chest. Two or three others then started beating the soles of my feet and all over my body."
They started accusing him of a bombing in Kalanki and of bringing Maoists here from Jitpur, asked him to name the others and beat him again. Bista lost consciousness and passed out four times as the questioning and beatings continued all day. His head was repeatedly shoved under the water of a nearby pond.
This treatment continued for 15 days, and after being blindfolded with his hands tied behind his back for 100 days, Bista and eight other prisoners were taken to the airport and flown to the tarai and placed at a detention centre in Biratnagar. On 29 November 2005, Bista was released when Advocacy Forum petitioned the Supreme Court. He had spent more than two years in detention.
"It's difficult to say how many people are being detained illegally," says Mandira Sharma at Advocacy Forum, which makes daily visits to 16 prisons in eight districts. "There are people who have been in prison more than three years under preventive detention."
The recently revised Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Control and Punishment Ordnance (TADO) states that suspects can be held in preventive custody for one year.
UN human rights chief Louise Arbour warned last week that her office will be closely monitoring any future abuses ahead of this year's meeting of the UN Commission on Human Rights (see Arbour's appeal, #280). At last year's meeting the international community pushed the Nepali government to accept the UN human rights office in Nepal which is headed by former Amnesty International chief, Ian Martin.
The UN Committee on Torture's November meeting was overshadowed here by speculation about the ceasefire and the 12-point understanding between the Maoists and the seven-party alliance and it rebuked the government on a number of fronts.
In its concluding observations, the committee, whose members include Chile, China, Russia, Senegal and the United States, first praised the government for cooperating with the new UN rights office and setting up human rights cells in the RNA, APF, and Police. It added that it was 'alarmed by the high incidence of atrocities' committed by the Maoists'. It also criticised the 'lack of fundamental guarantees of the rights of persons deprived of liberty under (TADO) including the right to challenge arrest, resulting in numerous alleged cases of incommunicado detention'.
From voices he heard and other clues he picked up while blindfolded, Bista believes that he was held at the RNA's Bhirabhnath Battalion in Maharajganj for the first 100 days. Last Thursday, the Supreme Court ordered the RNA to explain why it had lied to the court about holding four detainees, one at Bhirabhnath, who were arrested two years ago by plainclothes security officers.
The RNA says it had informed the NHRC and the UN human rights office about their arrests but despite numerous requests, it has yet to respond to Bista's allegations.
Latest report of the UN Committee on Torture: http://www.ohchr.org/english/bodies/cat/docs/CAT_C_NPL_CO_1_CRP.3.doc
PIC: MIN BAJRACHARYA