Nepali Times
Halt, who goes there?


Former speaker of parliament, Daman Nath Dhungana was prevented from flying out of Kathmandu on 10 March to take part in a seminar in Berkeley.

There are reportedly more than 400 names on the list of people who are under 'Kathmandu arrest'. Before he was due to leave, Dhungana had tried to find out if he too was on that list through the Nepal Bar Association (NBA) which corresponded with the Home Ministry about the matter. But there was no response.

After his airport interdiction, Dhungana filed a writ petition at the Supreme Court asking for an interim order preventing the authorities from restricting his freedom of movement without due process. But even though the court issued an interim order to that effect, Dhungana was again prevented from flying out to Pokhara last week.

Dhungana is not the only one. Since February First, academics like Professor Lok Raj Baral, Krishna Khanal, Krishna Hattechhu, Krishna Bhattachan have all been stopped at the airport. Deputy speaker of parliament, Chitra Lekha Yadav, MP Shree Maya Thakali have also been apprehended. Politicians like Minendra Rijal and Bidur Mainali have also been stopped from flying. Former Supreme Court judge, Laxman Aryal, Member of National Human Right Commission Kapil Shrestha, have all been met similar fates.

Most recently, the president of the NBA Shambu Thapa and advocate Bhimarjun Acharaya were dragged out of the plane after they had already boarded for a flight to New Delhi to attend a seminar. Harihar Dahal, ex-president of the NBA wasn't even allowed to go to Pokhara to attend a gathering of mountaineers.

From the human rights perspective, this restriction on the freedom of movement is fundamentally unlawful. Section 3.2 of the Public Security Act says the authorities should issue an order in the name of the person citing reasons for travel restrictions. 'The authority may intern a person by issuing an order in the interest of the public or to preserve the harmonious relationships subsisting between different castes, tribes and communities, if the said authorities have reasonable and adequate evidence against that person.'

Section 4.1 of the Act states: 'While issuing any order under sub-sections 3.1 and 3.2 the local authority must state the reasons and evidence relied upon for issuing such an order and give such order to the person concerned. The local authority must also inform the Home Ministry with a copy of such an order.' Section 6.1 of the Act limits such an order to a maximum period of 30 days. The authorities have failed to respect any of these legal provisions.

In Geneva last week, the government agreed to abide by the resolution passed by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights which among other things calls on the government 'to urgently restore the multiparty democratic institutions enshrined in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal and to respect the rule of law without exception.calls upon HMG of Nepal to immediately reinstate all civil and political rights, to cease all state of emergency related and other arbitrary arrests, to lift far reaching censorship, to restore freedom of opinion, expression and the press as well as the freedom of association, to immediately release all detained political leaders and activists, human rights defenders, journalists and others, to allow all citizens to enter and exist in the country freely."

The emergency is ostensibly meant to tackle the Maoist insurgency. Unfortunately, the draconian measures seemed to be aimed at law-abiding citizens. The fault of the eminent members of civil society whose movements are restricted is that they want to see constitutional provisions followed.

Why is the government so scared of unarmed lawyers, human rights activists and academics? Dissenting opinion should be treated as an alternative viewpoint. No one who thinks it is possible to attain a noble goal through peaceful means should be discouraged from exressing their opinion. Dissension, in fact, should be encouraged in the marketplace of ideas and treated like national property.

There is no parliament so the government of the day is not accountable to the people. The principles of check and balance enshrined in the constitution are not operative. The executive is arbitrary, intolerant, injudicious and authoritarian. It even ignores the Supreme Court. Severe restrictions on the people's freedom of movement without due process is the order of the day.

The government is not listening to voices inside the country, shouldn't it at least abide by the UN resolution adopted and passed in Geneva?

Radheshyam Adhikari is a senior advocate and a member of parliament.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)