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New Reality

July 1, 2001

Nepal news


There is a new reality in Nepal. A fundamental change has occurred in every city and in every village across the nation. Your daily lives may appear much the same as before but the climate in which you live has altered beyond recognition. On 4th June 2001 two major events completely transformed the whole social and political landscape. The entire royal administration was replaced and severe restrictions were placed upon everyone under new 'Public Security Regulations'. The era of King Birendra was truly brought to an end and a new age was born.

The immediate results of this new reality are clear enough. Armed policemen have suddenly appeared all over the country and many Maoist activists have been shot in several districts. Tourism has sharply fallen and many businesses are suffering. Thousands of ordinary citizens have been arrested without committing any crimes and many others have disappeared. Even newspaper editors and Members of Parliament have been arrested simply for voicing concerns that King Birendra may have been assassinated in a conspiracy. Indeed anyone can be arrested if the District Officer believes they might threaten 'public law and order'. And it seems that any organised meeting against the Public Security Regulations or the official report into the Palace massacre will be taken as a potential threat to the State.

Moreover these new regulations have been imposed without any normal discussion in Parliament. Of course there is no real Parliament in Nepal anymore. It has hardly met for the past six months and Government has effectively become the personal administration of an old man whose mind is still firmly held in the past. Like his great contemporary Mrs. Indra Ghandi of the Indian Congress Party, he has used a strong parliamentary majority to silence both the Opposition parties and the dissent within his own party. And like her, he has placed his relatives and trusted friends in powerful positions that uphold his personal rule.

Under these circumstances Nepal no longer feels democratic. The new security regulations are a serious threat to freedom of speech because they serve to discourage public meetings. Those arrested might be released after a few hours but the effect of their arrest is much longer lasting. A blanket of fear seems to have covered the whole population. Millions of ordinary citizens know in their hearts that something is very wrong about these events but very few can dare to speak out against them. The poor are worried about police brutality and false arrests. The business classes are worried about the future of their shops and industries. Intellectuals are worried about losing their freedom and elite families are worried about losing their long held monopoly of power. It is a time when everyone is worried about the future and nobody can predict it.

But it is also a time for courage and for principles. Of course there is a need to maintain public law and order. And there can be no argument with the government for using whatever minimum force is necessary to achieve this. But the State has no right to silence the voices of those who believe the whole system is wrong. It has no right to stop public meetings where speakers might talk of a conspiracy to murder the king. And it has no right to arrest people simply on suspicion that they might commit a crime. Nepal is still a Democratic State and everyone must have the right of free speech if democracy is to have any meaning.

From the voices of my friends in Nepal and the many letters I receive, and from the thousands of letters posted on the Internet, it is clear that the vast majority of Nepali people are dissatisfied with the official report into the Palace murders. This was a major crime of international interest and yet it received less investigation than a small fight at an English football match. Besides all the matters raised in my article last week, it now appears that no proper post-mortems were carried out on those killed. Forensic evidence to determine which guns inflicted the fatal shots on each victim is also non-existent. Most of the witnesses were never properly questioned and the contradictions between their statements were simply ignored. Little of their evidence has been corroborated by independent facts and even the death of King Diprendra remains covered in mystery. A right-handed man simply would not shoot himself in the left side of his head. And yet that is exactly what the report is posing as fact. Of course Speaker Ranabhat refused to comment on these matters when he briefed journalists on the official report. But that is the nature of an incomplete investigation; it simply cannot stand up to any questioning.

To many both the official report and the manner of investigation are beyond belief for such a major crime. This is not an internal Palace matter in which the surviving royal family may properly refuse to comment or be interviewed. They are not above the criminal law and the Constitution was never intended to prevent proper investigation into their activities where common law demands it. Murder is a serious crime and the murder of a reigning king is perhaps the most serious of all crimes. In any Western nation an immediate police investigation would automatically take place. Everyone involved would be interviewed in depth whatever their status. Independent experts would be invited to examine the evidence. There would be a formal public hearing where a special judge would assess all the available evidence and decide how the victims died. It might take many months but the conclusion would be fair and clear.

Sadly this has not occurred in Nepal. And it seems very unlikely that the Prime Minister will order a full police investigation without enormous public pressure. That is now the task for everyone who is concerned about these events. The State cannot justify the arrest of those who campaign for a proper investigation. It is a rightful cause and only those with something to hide will oppose it. There are many ways of fighting it and several senior public figures are already raising the issue. But there is something that all of us can do to help this cause. A portrait of King Diprendra hanging proudly on your wall is evidence enough that you have not accepted the report that condemns his guilt. Let Nepal be covered in his portraits for each is a voice that silently calls for a proper investigation and the justice that will surely come from it.

With my best wishes to you all,