Human Rights Watch has accused Nepal Police of using excessive force and demanded that Nepali authorities independently investigate the eviction drive of people living in squatter settlements at an industrial area in Rupandehi district on October 10, killing four protesters, and injuring dozens.

It also condemned the police for trumping up the charges of 'polygamy' to detain a women's rights activist Ruby Khan, who was leading a protest against the failure to properly investigate two alleged murders linked to land acquisition.

Police initially defied an October 10 Supreme Court habeas corpus order to produce Ruby Khan, a human rights defender who had been arrested at a sit-in protest in Kathmandu. She was finally brought to the court, and released, on October 14. As per HRW, the police attempted to 'bargain' with her saying she would be released if she ended her protest movement during her week in custody.

"Repeated failure to investigate and hold police officers accountable for abuses has led to a situation in which police misconduct is weakening the rule of law, and threatening public safety instead of protecting it," said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of Human Rights Watch. "Nepal's foreign donors should call for immediate and real progress on accountability and reform to end the habitual use of excessive lethal force, torture, custodial killings, and other serious crimes."

HRW has accused Nepali authorities of repeatedly failing to hold security forces to account. In October 2020, the National Human Rights Commission said the government had failed to fully implement 87 per cent of the commission's recommendations made over the previous 20 years, especially in failure to take legal action against alleged abusers.

The detention of Khan, an outspoken women's rights activist, on manifestly false charges of polygamy, shows the police attempting to silence a woman who is demanding justice, HRW said.

Mohna Ansari, a former national human rights commissioner representing Khan said that Khan, who has long campaigned against impunity for violence against women, was falsely charged with "polygamy" because she had criticised the conduct of police officers.

Ordering her release on October 14, the Supreme Court found that there was no evidence to substantiate the charge and said the police behaved with 'mala fide intent.' The police shooting at Motipur in Rupandehi occurred when the authorities moved to evict landless people who are in a long-running dispute with the government over plans to develop the area for industrial use. Government officials later claimed that the officers acted in self-defence when they opened fire on the crowd with live ammunition. Nepal Police should abide by United Nations guidelines on the use of lethal force, HRW said, and demanded criminal action against officers who were responsible for the unlawful killings.

The HRW has also condemned Nepal Police for failing to act professionally in various other events.

A version of this article appears in the print on October 19, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.