Government agencies always say they are committed to protecting human rights, but they have failed to prevent custodial deaths.

Mohmmed Hakim Shah of Sunsari, who had been detained on the charge of indecent behaviour, was found dead in police custody in October. Ladai Sah, who had been serving jail sentence in Rautahat District Prison, was found dead in the second week of November.

While police and government authorities said both victims committed suicide, the victims' families have accused police of foul play.

Project Manager of Advocacy Forum Bikash Basnet and Director of Amnesty International, Nepal Nirajan Thapaliya said an independent and impartial mechanism was needed to probe custodial deaths.

"Police are always blamed for custodial death and the existing laws require the victim's family to file an FIR at the same police station which creates a situation of conflict of interest. This problem can be resolved only through a fair and impartial investigation mechanism," Basnet argued.

Thapaliya said impartial investigation mechanism should be considered for all deaths occurring in prison. He said that often people from marginalised communities were found dead in mysterious circumstances in police custody. "If police custody cannot be safe for detainees, anybody who is taken into police custody for questioning or probe could lose their lives," he said.

Detainees who are supposed to be safe in state custody are sometimes found dead in mysterious circumstances, Basnet said and added that cases of custodial death were rising mainly for two reasons: Those responsible for custodial deaths are neither investigated nor punished and rights organisations are not allowed to visit custodies.

Human rights lawyer Mohan Kumar Karna said that all deaths where the victims' families accused police of negligence or torture should be investigated.

"Sometimes a detainee may die of natural causes in police custody, but when a detainee dies due to torture or police negligence, then such incidents should be investigated by a fair and impartial mechanism," Karna argued.

Associate Professor of law Balram Prasad Raut said, "Police inflict psychological and physical torture on the detainees and sometimes that leads to death."

Raut added that although the cops took detainees to health centres for check-up, the process was a mere ritual. "Police do not want to hear the word 'no' from detainees. They want to force detainees to admit their crime and therefore they inflict physical and mental torture on them or their family members,"

Raut said and added that under the existing laws, inflicting physical or mental pain on detainees or their families was a crime and the perpetrators of such crime were liable to punishment. They also have to provide compensation to the victim's family. He said none of the custodial deaths had been impartially and independently investigated so far.

Member of National Human Rights Commission Surya Dhungel said his office had been trying to investigate custodial deaths, but NHRC investigation could take some time due to a number of factors.

Spokesperson for Nepal Police Basanta Bahadur Kunwar said that in recent cases of custodial death, independent committees comprising home ministry officials were carrying out investigation.

"As far as what type of cases the police wanted to file in relation to the alleged custodial death is concerned, it depends on the investigation report," Kunwar said and added that police was trying prevent custodial death .

A version of this article appears in the print on November 28, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.