EDITORIAL: Whither rule of law?

The government decision to waive Dhungel’s remaining sentence and swift action on pardon recommendation undermine the rule of law

President Bidhya Devi Bhandari yesterday pardoned Balkrishna Dhungel, former Constituent Assembly member of the now-defunct CPN-Maoist Centre, upon recommendation of the Council of Ministers, commuting his remaining jail sentence of 20 years he was handed down for killing Ujjan Kumar Shrestha of Okhaldhunga in 1998. The government decided to pardon him on Monday night when the Supreme Court was scheduled to give its judgment on a writ petition filed by senior advocate Dinesh Tripathi who claimed that his sentence could not be waived as he had earlier disrespected the court verdict and even went on threatening the judges publicly. Dillibazaar Prison had recommended Dhungel’s release citing his “good conduct” while in the jail. Okhaldhunga District Court in 2004 had sentenced him for 20 years in jail. He had served for eight years before being released by the then Rajbiraj Appellate Court. However, the Supreme Court, while reviewing the lower court verdict, found him guilty in the case and upheld the district court’s verdict in 2010. He, however, did not appeal to the apex court challenging the review on time. Dhungel was “on the run” until police arrested him on October 31 last year. However, the apex court said on Tuesday that it was not necessary to issue an interim order as the Head of State had already pardoned him.

Dillibazaar Prison Office had recommended for waiving Dhungel’s remaining jail term, saying he had already served more than eight years in jail which is more than 40 per cent of the total jail sentence slapped by the district court. As per the Prison Rules, the President may pardon, commute, postpone or suspend punishment of 23 types of “heinous crimes in the negative list”, including murder if it is not committed in a “cruel and violent manner”, upon the government’s recommendation. The rule is that the President may pardon a person who has served more than 40 per cent of jail term.

The apex court was supposed to give its verdict on Monday about the government’s plan of pardoning Dhungel on the Republic Day. But the apex court could not do so as too many lawyers defending Dhungel lingered their arguments, making it impossible for the court to conclude its hearing on Monday. It was a deliberate attempt from Dhungel’s side to delay the hearing process so that he could be freed on the day. Writ petitioner Tripathi’s take was that Dhungel’s case was a “war crime”, so he did not qualify for waiver. Tripathi said neither Dhungel apologised to the victim’s family, nor did he file a petition for the pardon. The government’s decision to waive Dhungel’s remaining sentence so early – that too one day before the apex court’s planned verdict – is a clear violation of rule of law. Such act on the part of the government will only encourage the culture of impunity. The petitioner, however, may file a contempt of court against the government arguing that the sentence was commuted when the case was still sub-judice. But some argue that since the court did not issue a stay order the government was free to take its decision. However, the petitioner has the right to file a writ of certiorari challenging the legality of the decision to free him.

Let’s talk, period

Menstruation is a natural phenomenon and part of the lives of half of the global population. But still, it is a taboo. Girls and women in Nepal are still ostracised during their periods. In remote western parts of the country, they are banished to sheds during periods. This practice, called Chhaupadi, still continues despite a new law criminalising it. In urban centres also women tend not to talk about their periods.

To end the stigma associated with periods and promote menstruation dignity, National Dignified Menstruation Day was observed in Nepal on Monday. Minister for Water Supply Bina Magar rightly said: “We are talking about prosperity and equality, but taboos related to menstruation still prevail in the country.” Girls and women have been deprived of their rights due to stigma associated with menstruation. Menstruation dignity can save girls and women from infections and inflammation of reproductive organs. Period should not be the subject of shame, nor should it be cloaked in secrecy. Let’s talk about periods – they are a sign of life, not a matter of shame. Let’s put a period to period shaming.